MAPLE PARK – For one possession last week against Sterling, it seemed like nothing had changed for the Kaneland football defense.
The Knights had allowed 59 points in wins against Chicago Brooks and Huntley, and as Sterling reeled off five consecutive first downs on its first possession, safety Kory Harner felt like he was seeing the same story unfold.
“The first possession, when they had the five first downs, I was like, ‘Uh oh, we’ve got to pick it up,’ ” Harner said. “Our intensity was not too great.”
But the Knights eventually stopped the Warriors on fourth down on that drive, and all of the problems that plagued the Knights in the previous two weeks – the fundamental mistakes that a veteran team shouldn’t make – simply went away.
“We made a big stop, and the rest of the game we were locked in,” Harner said.
After the first drive, the Kaneland defense allowed only three more first downs in a 42-0 win. Sterling’s offense produced only 84 total yards in the shutout.
The Warriors had scored 47 points in wins against Moline and Curie during the first two weeks of the season, but the Knights’ defense showed why coach Tom Fedderly touted it as his team’s biggest improvement this year.
“We thought this was a big test for us,” Fedderly said. “We knew this was a big game for us, and we knew we had to stop the run. … As a whole unit, they did really well.”
After the Knights’ 25-24 win over Chicago Brooks in the opening week, when the Knights gave up 326 rushing yards, Fedderly was so disgusted with his defense that he wouldn’t allow the players to speak to the media the next week.
“We were just kind of figuring our team out, getting to know each other,” linebacker Ryan Lawrence said. “We were doing stuff we thought was right and weren’t listening to our coaches. Once we started playing by our rules, it just changes our whole game.”
The Knights’ defense was hapless early on in the season, but Fedderly never lost confidence in his group.
“We had two really good weeks of practice,” Fedderly said. “Going into the season, I was saying that our defense was going to be the improvement coming into the year. We were a little disappointed in some of the mistakes we were making in the first two games, but this was where we thought we could be.”
Last Friday, the Knights showed why their coach had so much faith.
They’ll try to prove their worth again this week against Streator, which is 0-3 this season.
“The kids are really starting to buy in, and realizing that all of the little things build up and matter,” Fedderly said. “Fundamentally, they took it to heart to shore up some of the problems that we pointed out.”