Kaneland struggles to stop Sycamore's red-hot offense
Five straight drives for the Sycamore football team started in Kaneland territory, and those five drives ended with touchdowns Friday as the Spartans erased an early 14-point deficit to beat the Knights, 56-28, in the Kishwaukee River/Interstate 8 White opener.
Kaneland led, 21-7, after one quarter behind some big passing plays from Troyer Carlson, but Sycamore (2-1, 1-0 KR/I-8 White) scored 28 straight and never led by less than 14 again.
"At first we weren't ready for their weapons," Sycamore linebacker Ethan Bode said. "Our secondary was getting burnt, basically getting torched. But we figured it out with the coaches, we figured out new stuff we needed to do, checked into a new formation. We did all the right things and held them to seven points the rest of the game."
The Knights (1-2, 0-1) also were hampered in the second quarter by the loss of running backs Corey Phillips and Tony DeBlasio to injury, forcing the team to throw it almost exclusively.
Kaneland coach Pat Ryan said by the end of the game Kaneland was using a back in Michael Lane who never had played that position. Phillips finished with six carries for 17 yards before he was hurt. Kaneland had 17 carries for 60 yards as a team.
"We were playing really well early in the game, then we had our top two running backs go down," Ryan said. "It really kind of messed with our game plan, and things kind of went downhill from there. I think it kind of deflated us a little bit.
"Overall I don't think we played great. Early in the game, before the injuries, we played great. We were up, 21-7. At times we looked brilliant, and at times we looked really bad. We have to limit those times we looked really bad."
Carlson threw for 280 yards in the first half and 342 for the game, completing 25 of 34 passes for three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Sycamore finished the game with 417 total yards, including 313 on the ground despite no back reaching 100 yards. Nathaniel Altepeter led the way with 92 yards and three touchdowns, Zack Crawford added a rushing touchdown and 83 yards, while Meier had 64 yards and a score. Late in the game, Joey Puleo ran six times for 57 yards.
"We were able to get our running game going because of the guys up front," Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. "Our running backs ran really hard. I thought Zack Crawford had a great game. I thought Nathaniel had a great game. But the guys up front were giving us seams to run.
For Crawford, it was the most he gained this year, carrying nine times -- second only to Altepeter's 14 carries.
"I've been telling him his carries are going to come," Joe Ryan said. "We have a lot of guys. You saw Joey Puleo come in at the end and run well. We have some dudes, right? So it's hard to get them all the carries we need. We got receivers who didn't get many catches tonight. It was just a night for the tailback tonight, and our fullback."
Sycamore opened the fourth quarter with a touchdown to build its second 21-point lead of the game, going up 49-28 on a 13-yard run by Altepeter, his third touchdown run of the game.
Meier ended the scoring with 3:02 left on a 24-yard scramble on third-and-7, making it 56-28.
The Knights started the second half with the ball but continued to struggle with their post-first quarter offense. Sycamore took over on the Kaneland 47, its fifth straight drive starting in Kaneland territory. Like the previous four, they scored a touchdown, this time on a 9-yard run by Sam Carlson for a 42-21 lead.
Kaneland answered with an 80-yard drive, converting a third and fourth down along the way to get the game back to 14 in the third. Troyer Carlson hit Aric Johnson from 9 our on a fourth-and-6 for the touchdown.
In the second quarter, Sycamore took control of the game with four touchdowns after trailing 21-7 after 1. It started when Brody Armstrong forced a fumble on a pass to Dom DeBlasio. On the next play, Meier completed his first pass, 45 yards to Sam Carlson.
On Kaneland's first play of the next drive, Dawson Alexander intercepted Troyer Carlson, then three plays later Meier tied it with a 30-yard pass on third and 8 to Crawford to tie the game at 21.
"We can't turn the football over. I told them the halftime the difference, the 14-point difference, was two turnovers that turned into touchdowns," Pat Ryan said.
The Spartans forced a three and out, then regained the lead four plays later when Crawford took in from 7 yards out. After another three-and-out, Altepeter took it in from 6 with 1:49 left in the half, giving Sycamore a 35-21 lead.
"We knew if we could keep rolling and come back, they would get tired," Joe Ryan said. "And I think they did a little bit."
Kaneland had 297 yards in total offense in the half compared to 203 for the Spartans, but Sycamore outgained the Knights 78-17 on the ground.
The Spartans started the explosive first half with a six-play, 61-yard drive for a score, capped by a 3-yard run by Atlepter. Meier had a 22 yard run on fourth and 7 to keep the drive alive.
"The offense was absolutely phenomenal," Bode said. "I give a ton of credit to the O-line. They were dominating Kaneland's D-line all game. Our running bucks ran hard. The receivers caught balls. Eli was making athletic plays."
Three plays later Kaneland tied it on a 64-yard pass from Troyer Carlson to Aric Johnson. The Knights followed with an onside kick, recovered by Dom DeBlasio. Five plays later Carlson snuck it in from 1 out, set up by a perfectly thrown 36-yard pass from Carlson to Gagne, bringing the ball down to the 1 despite tight coverage from Brody Armstrong.
Sycamore couldn't score on its next possession, and Kaneland took advantage again, this time on a 79-yard pass from Troyer Carlson to Gagne. An offside turned a third and 6 into a third and 1 on the drive, which Kaneland converted with a 1-yard run right before the score.
"I'll tell you what, some of those skill kids are scary," Joe Ryan said. "Some of them got hurt tonight and you hope they're OK. But you saw they can get behind you, and the kid can throw it to you. I was worried all week, it kept me up because they have big-play capability. But after that we were able to limit their big play."