Kaneland dominates Crystal Lake Central
On a cold, rainy night at Peterson Field, the Kaneland Knights gave no quarter. The Knights exploded for 28 points in the second quarter en route to a 41-13 first round playoff win over Crystal Lake Central in Class 6A.
Senior quarterback Joe Smith indicated that the weather conditions dictated more of a running game and the Knights were able to establish a very solid running game to earn the victory.
"Wilson (Gaffney) ran hard and Hogan (Evan) ran hard, and our offensive line played great," Smith said. "That's the reason we were able to win because we could run the ball. He's (Crystal Lake Central's Ellinger) a great quarterback, so we knew we had to play well. Our defense really stepped it up tonight. We can throw the ball and we proved tonight that we can run the ball too. You just have to play your best when it's playoff football."
Trailing 3-0 midway through the first quarter, Gaffney began to put together powerful runs that slowly began to shake the frost off the Kaneland offense.
"I gotta give a lot of credit to our offensive line," Gaffney said. "They knew coming in they had to play well and they really stepped it up tonight for us. I was pretty motivated coming into tonight because a lot of people didn't think we could run the ball. Evan Hogan had a great second half too."
Gaffney broke free for a 33-yard run to bring the Knights down to the Tigers' 12-yard line, and several plays later, Smith found Colton Doll for a 15-yard touchdown pass to give the Knights (8-2) a 7-3 lead.
Gaffney found paydirt on the Knights' next possession, scoring from a yard out to give Kaneland a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. The Knights never looked back after that.
Kaneland coach Pat Ryan said once they realized they were able to run the ball, they just decided to continue until it was stopped.
"Early on we were running the ball effectively, and at one point our offensive coordinator said 'I think we can just keep running the ball,'" Ryan said. "Sometimes Wilson (Gaffney) was getting 4, 5, or 6 yards each run ... knocking guys over, breaking tackles, so we just kept running the ball. Our offensive line just did a fantastic job tonight."
After forcing the Tigers (6-4, 6-3) to punt on their next possession, Kaneland took over near midfield and Gaffney scored his second touchdown several plays later for a 21-3 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Tigers attempted a reverse, but fumbled the ball back to the Knights on the 21-yard line. Smith made them pay with an 18-yard strike to Max Gagne for a 28-3 lead with just under two minutes to play in the first half.
The Tigers' next drive didn't go much better and they turned the ball over on downs back to the Knights with 50 seconds left in the first half on their 40-yard line. Smith's 13-yard pass to Gagne pushed the ball to the 1-yard line, and Smith took it in himself on the next play for a commanding 35-3 lead at the half.
On the Tigers' first possession of the second half, they quickly moved the ball nearly 20 yards on the first two plays. However, senior middle linebacker Dylan Calabrese tipped the next pass, caught it, and ran the ball 51 yards down to the Tigers' 1-yard line where Hogan scored two plays later for a 41-3 lead.
Ryan felt like the interception not only preserved the momentum for the Knights, but also quite possibly the game.
"Dylan made a great play," Ryan said. "We had the momentum, but they were starting to move the ball and I feel like that was a big momentum shift for us when we got the score. I feel like that was kind of the turning point in the game for us. It was a great play and the kids were excited. It built a lot of excitement for our team too."
The Tigers wound up with a safety on an odd play midway through the third quarter. Gagne intercepted a deep pass and appeared to down it in the end zone. However, the referees ruled that Gagne actually caught the ball at the 6-yard line and continued to run into the end zone.
Crystal Lake Central scored its lone touchdown of the game midway through the fourth quarter. Senior quarterback Ellinger's 30-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Jenkins made the score 41-13.
Ryan hopes that his team continues to show its balance as it continues on in the IHSA playoffs next week at Lake Forest.
"It's kind of been our philosophy to be balanced to run the ball when we need to and throw the ball when we need to, and tonight was a great example. We went up against a great football team and tonight we were able to do it (run the ball). I think our offense and our defense feed off of each other. I just want to thank the parents of the community to coming out and getting this field ready for us to play tonight."