Kaneland's ground game hammers Riverside-Brookfield

When the weather is inclement, outcomes of high school football playoff games are often determined by whoever runs the ball better.

This once again rang true on Friday night as Kaneland used an unrelenting ground attack to roll to a 56-20 Class 6A first-round victory at Riverside-Brookfield. The Knights pounded out 325 rushing yards and had two players go over 100 yards each.

Senior Dom DeBlasio, who ran for 157 yards and four touchdowns on 13 carries and added a TD reception, felt Kaneland's preparation this week was an important factor in the win. Normally a receiver - and an injury replacement at quarterback in Weeks 7 and 8 - he took on the role of running back.

"We practiced hard," he said. "We made sure our linemen could hit their blocks. I've got to give all the credit to the big dogs upfront."

Tony DeBlasio got Kaneland (7-3) off to a nice start when he picked off R-B quarterback Diego Gutierrez at his 40 on the game's opening drive. The Knights then marched 60 yards on seven plays, the capper being a 3-yard score by Josh Mauthe (16 carries, 124 yards) at the 7:29 mark of the first quarter.

"It was really important to get the running game going," said Kaneland coach Mike Thorgesen.

After forcing a three-and-out, Kaneland again used a seven-play drive to pad its lead, this time going 49 yards. Dom DeBlasio's 2-yard score made it 14-0 after 12 minutes.

Dom DeBlasio added another touchdown, this time a 3-yard run, to make it 21-0 Knights with 7:36 remaining in the half.

But R-B (7-3) finally got untracked offensively on the ensuing drive and moved 76 yards on 10 plays to get on the board. On fourth and goal from the Kaneland 15, Gutierrez rolled right to elude pressure and found Danny Valencia for a Bulldogs' touchdown with 2:43 to go.

However, the Knights immediately regained momentum as with 0:49 left in the half, when senior quarterback Troyer Carlson (9-of-14, 142 yards) connected with Dom DeBlasio for a 23-yard touchdown.

Then on the second-half kickoff, Kaneland senior wide receiver Aric Johnson applied the proverbial dagger when he went the distance for an 85-yard score.

"(Kaneland) is talented all over the place," said R-B coach Sam Styler. "(Johnson) is a huge weapon in all three phases of the game."

Johnson found the end zone again just over four minutes later with a 25-yard reception. After the Bulldogs countered with a 36-yard score by Gutierrez, Dom DeBlasio put things away early in the fourth quarter with two TD runs in just over one minute - first from 13 yards out, then a 52-yard sprint. The latter initiated a running clock.

"I thought it was a total team effort," Thorgesen said. "All phases did well."

R-B was able to tack on a final touchdown with 4:58 left on a Valencia 3-yard run. Gutierrez, who left late in the third quarter due to an ankle injury, returned on that scoring drive so he could end the season with his teammates.

"It was the last high school game of my career and I wanted to do whatever I could to finish," he said.

Styler said the gutsy effort of Gutierrez (10-of-15, 151 yards passing plus 63 yards rushing on 12 carries) spoke volumes about his character.

"He's a two-year captain and one of the best leaders I've ever been around," he said. "The will to battle through the pain tells you everything you need to know; he's a gamer."

Next week in the second round, Kaneland hosts No. 1 Lake Zurich, a 21-7 winner over Crystal Lake Central. Thorgesen said the Knights are thrilled to have a postseason home game.

"We like playing at home," he said. "In the playoffs, that's where you want to play."

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