Cary-Grove pulls away from Kaneland in second half

By Scott Walsh
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 11/3/2018 7:10 PM

If you've ever been around a thoroughbred racehorse, you know that when they know they're about to run, they stomp and snort and chomp at the bit waiting to be turned loose.

That pretty well describes the Cary-Grove offense in the early stages of its Class 6A second-round playoff game against Kaneland in Cary Saturday afternoon.

The Trojan offense finally got turned loose in the second half, scoring 18 unanswered points in the third quarter to break open a close game en route to a 38-6 victory.

Cary-Grove (11-0) advances to the quarterfinals and will face Phillips next week in Cary.

Ben McDonald was sublime in his command of the Trojans' vaunted triple option offense. He only went airborne 11 times, completing six for 64 yards and one touchdown. But it was on the ground where McDonald dominated. The 6-2, 190-pound senior slashed and diced the Kaneland defense for 197 yards and three touchdowns on just 14 carries, scoring on runs of 17, 38, and 6 yards.

Blake Skol added 91 yards on 18 carries, one of which was a 6-yard scoring scamper, and Danny Daigle had 83 yards on six carries, including a 46-yard beauty that saw him start around left end before cutting back and shooting right through the defense.

But things looked very different in the first half. In fact, Kaneland (7-4) scored on the game's opening possession as junior quarterback Joe Smith engineered a masterful 15-play drive that covered 70 yards and chewed up over half of the first quarter. Smith capped it with a 2-yard dive inside the corner pylon, but the extra point sailed wide left and Kaneland led 6-0.

As patient and methodical as the Knights' opening drive was, Cary-Grove's first possession was frenetic by comparison. A 57-yard kickoff return set McDonald up with great field possession at the Kaneland 28. A McDonald 4-yard keeper and pitchout to Daigle netted 11 yards before McDonald took the ensuing snap, slid several feet down the left side of the Trojans' offensive front and then exploded through a gap for a 17-yard scoring spurt. Sophomore kicker Nathan Splitt added the point after to give Cary-Grove a 7-6 lead.

The teams traded punts on the next two possessions before McDonald did it again, this time closing a brief (2:16) six-play drive by racing in up the middle from 38 yards out. Splitt's kick made it 14-6, where it stood at halftime.

What was unusual wasn't that it was a one-possession game at the midway point. It was that Cary-Grove owned an eight-point advantage despite running only 19 plays and having the ball for just 5:38 total.

One might think that must have made for some interesting intermission fodder. But, well, not so much. It sounded like business as usual.

"We scored really fast on that first possession, and, after the way they controlled the ball early, we really had a sense of urgency," explained Trojans coach Brad Seaburg. "But we really didn't need to say much at halftime. We just talked about making a few adjustments, which we did, and we really did a good job on defense."

"Coach just told me to keep making my reads, call the right plays and make things happen," added McDonald. "We knew their game plan pretty well -- to try to keep [our offense] off the field as much as possible. They did that pretty well in the first half, but in the second we really just came out with a 0-0 mentality and things started to click."

That defensive job that Seaburg alluded to was nowhere more evident than in the job the Trojans did shutting down senior running back Jonathan Alstott. The four-year varsity starter managed just 23 yards on 10 carries through the first three quarters. He finished the game, and his career as a Knight, with 54 yards on 15 carries.

They also put the clamps on Smith, who the week prior against Von Steuben had thrown a grand total of seven passes, four of which were touchdowns of 30 yards or more. But Cary-Grove is most definitely not Von Steuben, and against the Trojans, Smith was 16 of 26 for 149 yards and 1 interception -- and no touchdowns. He only had one pass of greater than 20 yards all afternoon.

Kaneland coach Pat Ryan called out each of his 16 seniors after the game, lauding and raising them up before the young men who will return to suit up in the Knights' black-and-white next season for their efforts both on and off the field.

"I am not at peace," Ryan said to his charges, "with the fact that we don't have practice on Monday. And I am not yet at peace with the fact that these seniors have played their last game for Kaneland. But I am proud of all of you."

Afterward Ryan, while not at peace, was able to crack a smile and give credit where credit is due.

"Our game plan was to control the ball and control the clock, and I think we did that pretty well in the first half," he said. "We played hard, but we needed to put more points on the board. And (Cary-Grove's) really good. They're really, really good."

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