MAPLE PARK – While coach Pat Ryan and the Kaneland football team are hoping to run the ball against Sterling to control the clock, the first-year coach said he feels the the Knights might have a not-so-secret weapon if that doesn't work.
Ryan said he feels the passing attack of the Knights is a little different from anything the Warriors have seen this year and may be able to hang some points on a team that has surrendered less than six points per game on average.
"I think that's maybe one advantage we have – our passing attack," Ryan said. "I don't know if they've seen a passing attack quite like ours, with as many weapons as we have. When we have that we can score pretty quick."
The No. 10 Knights (7-3) will host the No. 2 Warriors (10-0) in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs at 6 p.m. Friday night, with the winner advancing to face either No. 14 Marian or No. 11 Glenbard South in the quarterfinals.
Ryan said the first priority is to run the ball. The Knights were able to establish the run early last week in a 47-0 win at No. 7 Lindblom. Jonathan Alstott leads the Knights this year with 862 yards on 133 carries, and his eight scores on the round are tied with Trevor Jones, who is second in rushing with 552 yards on 90 carries.
"I think we've done a good job of that all year," Ryan said. "I think there were times that maybe we really could have scored more points against somebody, but we ate up a lot of the clock. Hopefully we can do the same thing Saturday night."
Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said as impressive as Jack Douglas and the air attack of the Knights is impressive, he and the Warriors aren't going to overlook what the Knights can do on the ground.
"I think when you first see them on film, you think they’re just going to throw it a lot, but they’ve got a really nice run game," Schlemmer said. "They get in two-back, they’re one-back, they’re empty [backfield]. They do a lot of different sets, and they’re able to run the ball a lot of different ways."
Sterling rolled to a 48-0 win in the playoff opener against No. 15 St. Viator last week, its third shutout of the season. They've only given up 14 points twice this year – a 28-14 season-opening win at Sycamore (3-6) and a 52-14 Week 6 win at Yorkville (2-7).
But Ryan said he think the passing game of the Knights can have some success. Despite missing almost three full games with an injury, Douglas has thrown for 1,458 yards with 18 scores and two interceptions. While Josh Marczuk has been an explosive target (40 catches, 716 yards, 12 scores), he only had one catch for two yards last week.
That opened up big games for Alex Moses (39-489-4) and Max Gagne (21-458-1), as well as Chris Angelotti.
Still, the Knights said the goal is to see what they can accomplish on the ground against the Warriors.
"The time management is a really big part of the game. It sets up the whole offense too," linebacker and fullback Chaz Shaw said. "It really helps out when that going it helps both sides out because the defense gets off the field more. It's good for everyone."
Defensively, Ryan said the Knights are going to focus on Nyrel Sullivan, who has carried the ball 169 times for 1,507 yards and 29 touchdowns.
"I don't know if there's any stopping Sullivan," Ryan said. "We're hoping we can limit him and prevent big plays. They're going to have to earn their yards, that's the goal. Hopefully he won't be the guy who beats us."
Quarterback Trey Morse has had a good year for the Warriors, passing for 962 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Offensive and defensive lineman Matt Payton said the Knights just have to play their brand of football.
"We know what we can bring to the table," Payton said. "As long as we execute it we'll be alright."
Shaw said the Knights – who surrender an average of 17 points per game – are confident on defense and interested in seeing what they can accomplish against a strong Sterling offense.
"They're a good offense, we're a good defense," Shaw said. "We'll see what goes down Saturday night."