The Kaneland football team traveled to Westmont Saturday for the 1996 season finale, tied for first place in the Suburban Prairie Conference Blue Division with Evergreen Park and Yorkville at 3-1. By the time they returned home, they had showed the football world that they are a force to be reckoned with by slamming Westmont 51-13, while Evergreen Park and Yorkville were losing, clearly earning the title of Suburban Prairie Conference Champions!
This is Kaneland's first Football Conference Champianship. A great feat for a team that few expected to be playing in the post season. Kaneland finished the regular season 7-2 overall, and 4-1 in the conference. The Knights only loses were by a single touchdown, both to playoff teams -- Yorkville and Morris. Since then Kaneland has won 4 straight games.
Westmont proved to be little trouble for the improved Knights. Westmont High School which is surrounded by modern office buildings, housing tracks, and a small pond plays on a football field is called The Duck Pond.
But you can't fool Knight fans. They knew ducks weren't the only visitors to the area. One glance at the ground and it was apparent that thousands of geese had preceded the Knights on the field. What the geese left behind, created an interesting reaction, as fans gave the illusion they where dancing the Macarena as they tried to step around Goose googoo. This also made an interesting effect when players went diving for the ball as they got more sliding time. Oh, those poor moms who had to wash those uniforms!
Whatever the conditions, the Knights quickly took control the game, scoring first on a 40 yard Kyle Schrader gallop, which a capped a 58 yard opening drive. On the next drive, which was set up by a Paul Aspengren interception, QB Aaron Siebens quickly connected with P.J. Fleck for a 28 yard aerial and Kaneland's second TD. By the end of the first quarter Kaneland had 14 points and Westmont had 9 yards.
In the middle of the second quarter Siebens took a little 5 yard jaunt into the end zone for 21-0 lead. Then with only two and a half minutes left in the half, Westmont's Eric Revita intercepted a Kaneland pass on the flat and returned it 34 yards for Westmont's lone first half score.
But like a heavyweight boxer, Kaneland returned the blow on the subsequent possession by marching 45 yards on just 6 plays. With only 20 seconds left in the half, Rusty Pozen took a Sieben's swing pass 13 yards into the end zone. As usual all kicks for the extra point by Matt Gladd, were good and Kaneland had a commanding 28-7 half time lead.
Kaneland added two more touchdowns in the third quarter when Ryan West scored from the 3 yard line, and P.J. Fleck caught his second TD pass of the day, from 17 yards out. Just to add a little change of pace to the scoring, Schrader dropped the Westmont punter deep in the end zone for a 2 point safety. By the time the final quarter started Kaneland had 44 points and Westmont had 38 yards and one defensive TD.
Kaneland started the fourth quarter with the Ian Thomas highlight film. On the opening drive, Thomas carried the ball 7 of 10 plays for 31 of Kaneland's 53 yards and closed out the effort with his own 1 yard dive into the end zone. The Sentinels scored the final touchdown of the day while most of the starting defensive unit was taking a vacation on the sideline, giving coach Thorgesen a little bath.
Anytime a team scores over 50 points, it's an obvious sign that the offensive line is blowing away it's opponents. This Saturday was no exception. The Westmont game was the showcase of an offensive line that as the season moved along, had gotten better and better.
These are the guys, who hit and hit, time after time, play after play, with only 25 seconds to rest in between. On the field, all they hear is the sound of pads smacking, grunting and groaning, slamming and pushing, hitting and driving. It's a war down there. It's diligence and hard work on every play, with little rewards except team victory. It's sacrifice instead of individual reward. These are men ahead of their time. Yet, they can come home and hug their moms.
To you, the men who helped made Kaneland Champions we salute:
Senior Tackle Andy Swanson
Junior Guard Brian Herra
Senior Center Matt Brown
Senior Guard B.J. Stacker
Senior Tackle Jason woolsey
Junior Guard Chad Herst (who missed the first five games with a knee injury)
Junior Guard Phil Olsen (who spent much of the year on the injured list)
One the defensive side, there's yet another great story. In recent games, you can judge the strength of a Knight victory by how many points Kaneland offense scores against how many yards the defense gives up. Here, Kaneland "D" has become the new battle cry. You could see the camaraderie develop as the season wore on. To which the following E-mail was sent to the Knights homepage just prior to the Westmont game.
"I think the Kaneland Knight defense is a great example of TEAM D!! The guys play together and never put their heads down. There are some young kids doing a great job and some seniors stepping up as well. I think we owe it all to the defensive coordinator-Coach Kearney. He is the guy who puts it all together in practice and puts us in the right place to make the play. We never think the other team is better than us because we go harder than they do every play. Even when the offense fumbles or throws a pick we run out on to the field and do our best to get the ball back. Overall the defense is the main reason we have a 6-2 record and playoff bound. We play our hardest because we never want to let coach Kearney down and we take pride in it. We still don't have a shutout and will do our best to get coach one this week at Westmont because he deserves it for all the help and time he has put into this TEAM!!!!" Senior Captain, Paul Aspengren.
Little more, needs to be said except to note that the "D" did give coach Kearney his shutout Saturday in a round about way. Of the two Westmont scores, one came against the offense on an interception return and other came late in game when the starting D was on the sidelines.
Coach Thorgesen summed it well by saying, "I'm so happy for our Seniors, who only won 4 games in their Freshman and Sophomore years and hung in there. And I'm just so prude of all these kids and how they responded".
Back on the offensive side, sophomore P.J. Fleck set a new school season pass receiving record, with 539 frequent flyer yards. The previous record was held by Scott Reynolds who traveled 459 yards back in 19787. Fleck's final catch of the regular season was a spectacular diving catch in the end zone for a TD.
Therefore, everything is grand in Kaneland Land, as the Knights head into the state playoffs. IHSA Football is made up of 6 classes. Each class is based on school size and consist of 32 teams. the Knights are in class 3A . 3A is divided into 2 brackets - North (Kaneland's) and South. Of the sixteen teams in the north bracket Kaneland is seeded eighth. The first playoff game will be at Kaneland, Saturday night at 6:00, against Farmington (7-2) -- which is about fifteen miles west of Peoria.
The road to the State Championship consist of 5 games, each being played on Friday night or Saturday (afternoon or night) starting November 1. If Kaneland beats Farmington, then the second round game will be away, against either arch rival Yorkville or powerhouse Driscoll (9-0) --- the number one seed. However, Kaneland beat Driscoll in the playoffs last year 21-0.
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