MORRIS – Morris senior quarterback Griffin Sobol gingerly raised his hands for a gritty game of show and tell after Friday’s Northern Illinois Big 12 football game at Kaneland.
“Tell you what, that Kaneland defense, I’m going to be in the most pain I’ll ever be in after a game tomorrow. They came at me,” Sobol said. “I mean, you can see by my knuckles. They’re all bloody.”
For Sobol and the Redskins it was the kind of pain that hurt so good. Morris edged Kaneland, 26-21, to keep its postseason hopes flickering, a result that simultaneously ended the Knights’ bid for another postseason.
Kaneland (2-5, 0-4 NI Big 12 East) will not play beyond Week 9 for just the second time in the past 20 seasons, and the first time since 2007 – coach Tom Fedderly’s first season at the helm.
The Knights lost their fifth straight game. Foes have outscored them by just 31 points in that span. Take away a 41-25 loss at Yorkville in Week 4, and the margin grows frustratingly tighter.
“You know, our kids have battled every single game, right down to the last minute,” Fedderly said. “And so I told them I’m really proud of them and their effort.”
Morris (3-4, 1-2) will host Sycamore next week needing the same result it got Friday, then another win in Week 9. The Redskins boast a formidable playoff streak of their own, having not endured consecutive losing seasons since the late 1970s. More recently, Morris missed the playoffs in 2000 and 2013.
“We knew both teams were in the same position, so we really wanted to come out and stick it to them at the start,” Redskins junior defensive lineman Ryan Niewinski said. “I mean, give props to them. They’re a great team and really made plays at the end.”
The Redskins enjoyed an edge, too. Good things come in threes, the adage goes, and boy, was that the case for during the second quarter.
The Redskins’ defense forced fumbles on three consecutive Knights possessions and scored a pair of touchdowns en route to building a 12-7 halftime lead. T.J. Layne had the first two recoveries. On the touchdowns, Morris’ first point-after attempt sailed wide right, and the team was unable to convert a two-point conversion pass after its second score.
Kaneland regained the lead on its opening possession after halftime, capping a six-play, 54-yard drive in 2:39 with a 7-yard pass from junior quarterback Jake Marczuk to senior wide receiver Connor Fedderly. The Knights also scored on the game’s first drive – a 37-yard connection between Marczuk and Fedderly.
Fedderly grabbed Kaneland’s final TD, as well, a 15-yarder with 1:07 to play that drew the Knights within the final margin on Drew Franklin’s point-after. That reception came on the heels of Fedderly’s 38-yard catch through three Redskins defenders and Marczuk’s fourth down conversion pass to Brock Harner on a broken play.
“I was just glad that our kids don’t give up,” Tom Fedderly said. “Everybody’s out there just fighting right until the very end, and Connor came up with some plays at the end. And, you know, Jake made some scrambles and made good throws.”
Kaneland led, 14-12, after three quarters and as late as with 9:08 to play in the fourth. That’s when the Knights were unable to convert a fourth-and-10 from the Morris 22.
Morris took over and mixed its bread-and-butter – keeper runs from Sobol and draws and sweeps to his brother, Keagan. A trick play helped, too, as Nathan Guth’s wide receiver screen pass to Chase Hansen earlier in the drive set the Redskins up deep inside Knights territory.
Griffin Sobol’s 10-yard scoring pass to Hansen and a conversion pass to Hansen gave Morris a 20-14 lead with 4:19 to play. The Redskins scored less than two minutes later after Kaneland threw three consecutive incompletions, then shanked a punt Morris recovered at the Kaneland 5.
“We talk about persistence,” Sobol said. “Keep coming, keep coming, don’t give up. Especially when our lives are on the line.”
Morris collected five sacks, with Niewinski describing the Knights’ protection calls as similar to the Redskins’, which helped with Morris’ pressure packages.
Hansen fell on an onside kick attempt after Connor Fedderly’s third touchdown. Moments later, a handful of Knights remained slumped on the Peterson Field after Tom Fedderly’s postgame address.
“We came out, we scored right away and we had the lead [in the second half],” Tom Fedderly said. “That’s just the way the game went. It was a hard-fought battle, and it came right down to the last drive.”