Kaneland holds on again

Kaneland's cardiac kids came through again.

For the fourth straight week Kaneland's defense found itself on the field in the final minutes with its opponent driving for a potential game-winning touchdown.

And for the fourth straight week the Knights held.

Junior free safety Blake Bradford stuffed Rochelle quarterback Nick Moore on a 4th-and-1 run with two minutes remaining, a stop that preserved the Knights' 20-14 victory Saturday in the Class 5A quarterfinals at Rochelle.

Kaneland (12-0) will host its second straight semifinal next week against Montini, a 52-27 winner over Marian on Saturday. It's a rematch of last year's state semifinal also played in Maple Park.

In the last four weeks Kaneland has defeated Morris to win a conference championship and won playoff games over Belvidere, St. Francis and now Rochelle. In all four of those games the opponent has had the ball with a chance to win on its last drive of the game.

"I think we need to stop doing that, it's going to make me sick," Kaneland quarterback Drew David said. "As long as we keep winning, whatever. I'd always rather be on the field but I have confidence in my defense. I know they can get it done and they did."

While Rochelle (8-4) rushed for 234 yards, the Knights held when they had to.

"We got questioned when we gave up 45 against Belvidere, 28 in second half to St. Francis," Knights cornerback Jacob Razo said. "It's hard to beat a team twice. We knew they were going to run hard. They have great backs. We knew they were going to hit us in our face at their own place and I thought we did a good job stopping the run."

No stop was bigger than Bradford's tackle. The Hubs had converted a fourth down and third down on a long drive to reach Kaneland's 19-yard line, just 19 yards from a potential go-ahead touchdown and extra point.

That's when Bradford stepped up to deny Moore coming free around the left end.

"We just knew we had to get the job done," Bradford said. "By the formation we could see what was going to happen. I knew I had to keep outside contain so I just made sure I stayed outside."

Rochelle got one last chance after forcing a 3-and-out, but with just 1:15 left, no timeouts and a run-dominated offense that finished the day 1-for-5 passing. Ryan Fuchs also helped with a 40-yard punt to put Rochelle back at its 34-yard line.

Kaneland allowed one first down on a run to midfield but a sack from Sean Carter and an incompletion on fourth down sealed the win.

"I couldn't be prouder of those kids," Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly said. "I'm glad those kids got a chance to step up and win the game for us at the end. People doubted our defense the last couple games we played."

David threw for 4 touchdowns in the Knights' first meeting with the Hubs, a 35-14 victory. Rochelle let the Knights know early the rematch wouldn't be so easy.

"Anytime you get into the playoffs no matter who you play is going to be a dogfight and it was today," David said.

Ryan Noel recovered a fumble early in the first quarter for Kaneland. But after David drove the Knights to the Hubs' 10, Rochelle held on fourth down to halt the best drive of a scoreless first quarter.

The Hubs got on the board first with 10:30 left in the second quarter. On a 14-play, 90-yard scoring march the Hubs, as they traditionally do, ran 13 times. But the one pass was a big one, a 44-yard screen to Marquez Felix who capped the drive four plays later on a 1-yard dive.

David's 18-yard touchdown run tied the game at 7. Kaneland took a 14-7 halftime lead on Quinn Buschbacher's 4-yard touchdown run, two plays after the senior's sensational leaping one-hand grab gave Kaneland 1st-and-goal at the 4.

Fedderly decided to kick off into the wind to start the second half. Felix broke free on a 58-yard run off right tackle that tied the game 14-14 with 9:04 left in the third quarter.

Neither team scored again in the third quarter. Kaneland sophomore Jesse Balluff found a hole up the middle for a 33-yard touchdown run with 9:53 left in the game.

Rochelle's Derek White blocked the extra point leaving the Hubs within 6 points.

"It was a great play and if we scored there we could win the game without going for two," said Rochelle coach Kevin Crandall, who also praised Bradford's game-saving tackle.

"I thought we had it right there (on 4th down) until the free safety stoned him on the spot. We got the look we wanted. We got the ball outside the nine where we wanted, the free safety just made a great play. If we had got it it would have been because we got a generous spot."

Kaneland finished with nearly identical rushing (138 yards) and passing (140) totals. Balluff ran for 69 yards after being held to 8 at halftime while David was effective on the ground with 67 yards rushing.

Rochelle's Felix led all individuals with 124 yards rushing.

"I think our kids played as well as we could play, as hard as we can play," Crandall said. "Holding them to 20 points if phenomenal. We harassed the quarterback probably more than he has been harassed all year."

While Kaneland didn't light up the scoreboard, the Knights played error-free football with no turnovers or penalties. Kaneland returns home next week to play Montini (10-2) trying to avenge last year's 34-21 semifinal loss.

"We're going to celebrate this one today, it's a great win for our program, and then we'll get as prepared as we can," Fedderly said.

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