Big 2nd half sends Kaneland into playoffs with momentum
Kaneland's offense thawed out after halftime fueled by the efforts of two senior Knights on Senior Night at Peterson Field.
The Knights defeated LaSalle-Peru 31-0 after leading only 3-0 at the half.
Senior quarterback Joe Smith hooked up with longtime friend and fellow senior Max Gagne for two long touchdowns in the second half to lead the Knights to victory.
"We struggled a little bit there in the first half, but we made a few adjustments at halftime and our offensive line really came out firing for us," Smith said. "We came out firing instead of just sitting back and that's all we had to do. We have to score on all the chances we get."
"That was awesome," Gagne said. "We've been playing together, what, since fifth, sixth grade? The first half was a lot of mental mistakes and we couldn't get our timing down."
Smith credited the defense, but admitted as they head into the playoffs the offense will have to do their part, too.
"Our defense has been solid all season," Smith said. "But we still have to score and that's on us. We know the defense is going to have our back every play, so we have to do our part." Kaneland (7-2, 5-2) didn't get its second offensive possession until three minutes into the second quarter and both the Knights and Cavaliers' offense couldn't muster much of an offensive threat. Then with just over five minutes remaining in the first half, LaSalle-Peru (5-4, 4-1) made it to midfield, but a fumble gave the ball to the Knights on their 38-yard line. The Knights managed to move the ball to the Cavalier 19-yard line, and Andreas Matarangas kicked a 36-yard field goal.
The Cavaliers opened the second half with an onside kick and recovered it just past midfield in Kaneland territory. They advanced the ball to the 20-yard line, but fumbled back to the Knights. Kaneland then gained 47 yards on four consecutive running plays and then Smith found Gagne for a 43-yard pass for the game's first touchdown.
The Knights scored again on their second possession of the half when Evan Hogan galloped in from 20 yards out to put Kaneland up 17-0 with time running out in the third quarter.
Smith then found Gagne for a second time on their next possession from 34 yards out to give the Knights a commanding 24-0 lead. Smith scored from 3 yards out midway through the fourth quarter for the Knights' final tally.
Kaneland coach Patrick Ryan indicated that the key to the second half offensive explosion was due to the play of the offensive line and some halftime adjustments. He believes the adversity the team has faced will help them as their season continues.
"I think we just kind of rallied a little bit as an offensive line and we also made some adjustments that worked," Ryan said. "I think our defense (gives us confidence). For the most part, we've been pretty solid defensively, and that really helps the offensive side too. I think it was a testament to our team. A bad thing happened and we responded well. We talked a lot about our mindset this week, and I think this game will be a great example heading into the playoffs."
Ryan was happy with the win, but he now has to focus on the playoff season.
"We tell the boys all the time that it's hard to win football games, and we won seven of them," Ryan said. "But now we all start 0-0 (for the playoffs). We'll get started reviewing film and putting a game plan together and see where we can improve."