Yorkville's 'D' stifles Libertyville
Blake Kersting anticipated the specific pass play, and also recognized the situation Yorkville faced at the time.
He just needed to win the foot race.
Kersting indeed did. The Yorkville senior linebacker's 58-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the second quarter provided a huge momentum swing.
It was the first of three Yorkville scores in a five-minute juncture, and the Foxes rode the wave to a 33-8 win over visiting Libertyville in Friday's Class 7A first-round game.
"I kind of had an idea that play was coming and I just messed with my alignment to show that it was open, then I sprinted out there to pick it off," Kersting said. "We needed the momentum. As soon as I got it I said 'I have to score.' I knew I had to just beat the quarterback to the end zone."
Kersting's touchdown was just one score, Yorkville's first of the game. But at the same time it seemed like much more, a sigh of relief and emotional lift.
Libertyville (5-5) had scored first, on the Wildcats' first possession, Quinn Schambow's 17-yard TD pass to Kristian Gavric on fourth-and-16.
It was the first time the Foxes (9-1) had trailed in a game since Week 5, their first points allowed since Week 7. The Wildcats were past midfield looking to score again when Kersting rose to the occasion as he so often does.
"I think everybody was kind of on the heels there, and we haven't really had that since Plainfield North [Week 5]. It almost felt like it was getting out of reach," Yorkville coach Dan McGuire said. "Credit to Blake. He made a big play for us. Our playmakers stepped up when they had to. That's why he's a captain and a three-year varsity player. He knew what we needed and he made it happen. It almost felt like a balloon popped where everybody could relax, coaches included."
For Libertyville, unfortunately, it was the first of multiple mistakes that came back to haunt the Wildcats.
Yorkville scored its second touchdown, a 44-yard pass from Michael Dopart to Isaiah Brown, on a blown coverage, then made it 20-8 on Luke Zook's blocked punt for a touchdown. In the second half Zook forced a fumble that Kersting recovered when Libertyville was driving for a score, and Yorkville turned it into more points.
"We kind of beat ourselves in the first half. That was the game," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said. "We showed up ready to go. It's just those mistakes are hard to overcome."
Schambow had completed his first seven passes until the interception, running Libertyville's no-huddle offense.
"We had them on their heels," Jones said, "and we just kind of let them out. A couple plays just kind of snowballed and it was tough to get back."
Yorkville's scoring indeed came fast and furious in the second quarter.
On the Foxes' first drive after Kersting's interception, Dopart, flushed out of the pocket, found Brown all alone down the right sideline, and the Foxes' sophomore walked into the end zone for a 14-8 lead with 6:42 left in the second quarter.
Zook's blocked punt followed, on Libertyville's ensuing possession.
"I was about to run and I saw Isaiah's hands at the last second," Dopart said. "Just threw it up there. I just didn't want to overthrow it."
In the second half Hudson Fiene kicked two 30-yard field goals, sandwiched around a 9-yard touchdown run by Gio Zeman, who ran for 156 yards on 18 carries.
Meanwhile Yorkville's defense, which came in with five shutouts on the season, shut out Libertyville after its initial drive. Schambow was 18-for-30 passing for 147 yards, 61 of that total coming on the first drive of the game.
"We just kind of settled down defensively and played our own game," Kersting said. "They had a good game plan, they were getting a bunch of yards on us early, but we just kind of tightened down and made some adjustments."
Yorkville, in the second round for the fourth consecutive postseason, advances to host Moline, a 21-13 winner over DeKalb. The Foxes have lost in the second round on the three previous occasions they reached that round.
"We're trying to set the standard," Kersting said. "Just keep going, maybe make a run."