Burlington Central's Kowall scores 4 TDs in win against Crystal Lake South
After Burlington Central's defense held Crystal Lake South short on fourth-and-2 with just over four minutes remaining, there was little doubt who was getting the ball for the Rockets on their ensuing possession.
Senior running back Joey Kowall, as he proved throughout most of Friday's Fox Valley Conference battle, was difficult to slow down.
The Rockets bruiser found open space in the middle of the field and ran 32 yards untouched to the end zone, breaking a tie with 2:39 left.
Kowall later added an eight-yard touchdown run for good measure, and the Rockets ran away from the Gators 35-21 for their second win in a row.
Kowall ended with a game-high 117 yards on 14 carries while scoring four of the Rockets' five touchdowns.
Central improved to 2-1 overall and in the FVC with the win. South fell to 1-2, 1-2.
Kowall ran behind Central's starting offensive line of MJ Hansen, Knowlton Deihs, Jack Therkildsen, Aidan Nuno and Trey Pearson.
"He just runs hard, he's a grinder," Central coach Brian Iossi said of Kowall. "He's not the fastest kid, but he just grinds and grinds. We have a huge offensive line and he found some really big holes, especially in big moments.
"That touchdown at the end was huge."
Central was without starting quarterback Jackson Alcorn, who threw five touchdowns in a win over Dundee-Crown last week, for most of Friday's game against the Gators. Alcorn, a junior, suffered an undisclosed injury with less than five minutes left in the first quarter.
The Rockets turned to senior quarterback Ryder Bergemann, who finished 10-of-16 passing for 160 yards. He connected with a wide open Caden West for a 32-yard touchdown with 7:28 left in the fourth quarter that gave the Rockets a 21-14 lead.
South answered with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Caden Casimino to Colton Hess, tying the score at 21 with 10:04 left in the fourth quarter.
South came up short on two fourth-down attempts in the fourth quarter, and Kowall and the Rockets scored both times. Kowall's 8-yard touchdown run with 56 seconds sealed the win for Central.
Bergemann felt confident when he entered the game for Alcorn.
"I was nervous, but I have trust in my teammates, and Jackson has trust in me," Bergemann said. "We've been competing all summer for the job. We know whoever is out on the field, regardless if it was me or if was Jackson, we would get the job done at the end of the day.
"We're going to bring it every week, and we can compete with anybody in this conference."
Iossi feels fortunate to have two great options at quarterback.
"I've said since the start, I have two of the best quarterbacks in the area," Iossi said. "I have all the confidence in Ryder. I looked right at him when he went in and said, 'You've got this. I believe in you every step of the way.' Jackson believed in him, and all his teammates believe in him."
Casmino was 20-of-35 passing for 154 yard and one touchdown for South. He added an eight-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter and finished with 58 yards on the ground.
Jake Christiansen had a team-high 70 yards rushing and a 3-yard score in the third quarter. Hess had 57 yards receiving and a touchdown, AJ Demirov had 58 yards on nine catches, and Logan Miller added 32 yards receiving.
South coach Rob Fontana said the Gators hurt themselves with too many penalties.
"We had breakdowns in communication, gave up the big play [32-yard touchdown run from Kowall], and we just never could recover from that," Fontana said. "We had about 150 yards in penalties, and you can't beat anybody when you have that much damage against yourself.
"We need to play a better game as a whole. Offensively, we didn't get our first first down until the second quarter. On defense, they were out in space on us and we've got to make those tackles."