Kaneland loses nail-biter in season finale
LA SALLE -- With his team huddled around him at the center of the new artificial turf, La Salle-Peru coach Jose Medina pointed toward the top of Howard Fellows Stadium and said, "This team is going up on that board," drawing shouts and cheers from his players.
Medina had pointed to a sign listing all the undefeated teams in L-P history.
For the second week in a row, the Cavaliers overcame a two-touchdown deficit in the second half, this time rallying to defeat Kaneland, 21-20, to finish the COVID-19-shortened spring season 5-0.
It's L-P's first undefeated season since 1968.
"This is what I wanted as a program when I took this over," said Medina, who took over as head coach in 2015 after 13 years as an assistant coach. "When I first took over, I wanted to build some consistency -- finding the right coaches and getting the right players to do the right things.
"I think this is a great win for this school, for this football program and for this community. I can't be more proud of our seniors. I can't be more proud of our juniors, too. They stepped up. A lot of kids made plays."
Kaneland made plays in the third quarter.
Sam Gagne made a leaping catch on a Troyer Carlson pass to haul in a 19-yard touchdown with 4:10 left.
On L-P's ensuing drive, Kaneland blocked a punt, Jaden Madison scooped it up and raced 27 yards to put the Knights ahead, 20-7, with 1:29 left in the third.
"We made some adjustments," Kaneland coach Pat Ryan said. "We saw some mistakes we were making, and some things they were doing. Our middle linebacker got hurt. I think our kids found something they wanted to play for. They got a little fire under them and got going. That punt block was a big play for us. It gave us a little momentum."
L-P didn't waste any time getting the momentum back.
On the Cavs' fourth play, Drake Weber took an option pitch from Tyler Hartman, wove through a few defenders and raced 59 yards for a TD with 11:18 left in the game.
"We've been switching it up on offense -- Sean (Whitfield), Levi (Reed), Cory (Walker) and me have all been getting reps in there," Weber said. "It was just my turn to go. I saw a hole, made a guy miss, and it was all green from there. I'm not the fastest, but I got it done."
With Kaneland clogging up the middle throughout the game, the Cavs went back to the option pitch.
This time, Whitfield ran 19 yards for a touchdown with 4:42 remaining. Weber's extra point put the Cavs up by a point.
"In past years, L-P teams probably would have folded," Medina said. "But they kept grinding and kept fighting. That's what we want out of these kids. That's going to build a championship program."
The L-P defense then stepped up again, holding the Knights to another three-and-out.
The Cavs took over at their own 29, and with Weber in at fullback and Hartman running from the QB spot, L-P advanced to the 47 and ran the clock down to 13 seconds before punting.
Kaneland had time for one more play with Carlson throwing to Gagne, who ran from one side of the field to the other looking for room before his helmet was ripped off and he was tackled, setting off a jubilant celebration on the L-P sideline that continued into the postgame huddle and after with hugs, high-fives and photos between players, coaches, family and friends.
"Medina always told us to leave the program better than how we found it," Weber said. "That's all we wanted to do. ... People said we don't deserve to be on that (undefeated) board. I think we do. It wasn't our fault we only had five games. We just played the games they put in front of us. It's huge for us.
"This senior class is the biggest we've had in a while. We had 22 guys and stuck through it all four years. It's a great way to end it."
The Knights finish 3-2.
"Our kids left it all on the field," Ryan said. "For a lot of our kids, that's the last time they'll ever play. We played hard. We made some football mistakes. They made some mistakes. It just went their way. I have to hand it to them. They played a really great game.
"I'm really proud of our team. We had some kids who were three- or four-year varsity players. They've been very successful and are leaving a legacy at Kaneland. They're the type of kids we'll talk about for a long time at Kaneland."