Daily Chronicle sports editor Ross Jacobson and sports reporter Steve Nitz spend their days covering the area’s sports scene. Occasionally, they give their viewpoints on those local sports. In this installment of their Take 2 column, they discuss tonight’s Sycamore-Kaneland game.
Jacobson: After seven weeks, it’s here. Sycamore vs. Kaneland finally has arrived. We’ve been pointing to this matchup since both teams lost in Round 2 of last year’s playoffs, and now the battle of 7-0 teams has materialized.
Kaneland comes into tonight’s game ranked No. 2 in The Associated Press’ Class 5A poll while Sycamore is No. 3. Is this the biggest matchup in area history?
Nitz: I’m going to say no. Let’s go back four years with the same two teams. In the first round of the 2009 Class 5A playoffs, Sycamore traveled to Kaneland and got a big 40-13 win over the Knights. It also was the Spartans’ first playoff victory since 1985.
Tonight’s matchup is huge and is an unofficial conference championship, but to me a playoff game trumps a regular-season contest, even if it is a huge one.
Jacobson: Although I agree that playoff games have more immediate importance, I’d say the significance of this game is greater for both teams than the 2009 playoff game. Four years ago, it was a first-round game between two teams that weren’t championship contenders. Although Sycamore reached the quarterfinals, neither was a big threat to win it all.
This time around, both teams are legitimate players, no matter the outcome. For Sycamore, it’s a chance to topple Kaneland and finally get that big win that has eluded the program in recent years. Kaneland has an opportunity to reaffirm its dominance in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East and show that last year’s early playoff exit was a fluke.
But what are your keys for Kaneland to secure a win?
Nitz: One main key for the Knights is stopping Sycamore wideout Ben Niemann, a task that has been extremely tough for opposing teams this season. Also, there’s the turnover battle. In a game that easily could come down to one or two plays, turnovers are huge. Kaneland quarterback Drew David has been more turnover-prone than Sycamore’s Devin Mottet this season, as David has nine picks compared to only one for Mottet.
What are your keys for the Spartans?
Jacobson: Offensive balance will be huge for Sycamore. Kaneland’s defensive line is one of its biggest strengths, so the Spartans need to keep their front four guessing between run and pass, not allowing them to get in a comfort zone of consistently rushing the passer or playing the run. Like you mentioned, the turnover battle also will be key.
OK, prediction time. Who you got?
Nitz: I’m going with Sycamore, 28-21. I really like the way Mottet has been playing this year, and the home crowd at Sycamore will provide an edge for the Spartans.
Jacobson: I’ve been back and forth on this, but I’ll take Kaneland. The Knights have won 35 consecutive regular-season games and I won’t pick against them until I actually see the streak broken.
Sycamore is dealing with some injury issues right now and even without running back Jesse Balluff, the Knights should do just enough to come away with a win – 35-31.