MAPLE PARK – Saturday’s Class 5A second round playoff game between Kaneland and Sterling featured a few unexpected turn of events from the host Knights, including two separate power outages and a running clock.
But nothing hurt Kaneland more than senior quarterback Jack Douglas’ four interceptions. The Knights were never able to recover as Sterling ended Kaneland’s season in a 46-20 defeat.
Entering Saturday's game, Douglas had thrown only two interceptions all season.
“I just messed up; you can’t blame it on anything but myself,” said Douglas who completed 11 of 31 passes for 189 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. “That’s obviously the best team we’ve seen all year.”
Sterling’s all-time leading rusher, Nyrel Sullivan struck first on a 38-yard rushing touchdown at the 9:39 mark of the first quarter. Alex Marquez missed the PAT, but that would be one of Sterling’s very few mistakes against the Knights. Sullivan led Sterling (11-0) with two rushing touchdowns and 102 yards on 24 carries.
"(Sullivan) is one of the best backs in the state," Ryan said. "I thought our kids did a fantastic job. I feel like we held him in check with the exception of that first drive."
On the following drive, Douglas’ first pass attempt was intercepted by Alek Duran. Sterling took over inside Kaneland’s red zone and it didn’t take long for Duran’s name to be called again. Just three plays later, the junior defensive back/wide receiver hauled in an 11-yard pass from quarterback Trey Morse to increase Sterling’s lead 13-0.
"They took full advantage of our mistakes," Kaneland coach Pat Ryan said. "It's hard to come back from that. That's a good football team."
Douglas broke free for Kaneland’s first score on a 43-yard keeper at the beginning of the second quarter. The Knights went for two but couldn’t convert. Sterling also had a pair of failed two-point conversions.
Kaneland entered halftime trailing 25-6.
Everything fell apart for the Knights in the second half. Douglas threw three of his four interceptions during the third quarter. His first pass attempt of the half was intercepted by Marquez Williams, who returned it 20 yards for a pick-six.
The low-point for Kaneland came with 2:46 left in the third quarter – on fourth and goal, Isaiah Ryan intercepted Douglas in the endzone and returned it 103 yards to mark Sterling’s largest lead, 46-6. The remainder of the game was played with a running clock.
“Isaiah read it perfectly, he’s the leader of our defense and got us into the correct coverage,” Sterling coach Jonathan Schlemmer said. “We challenged our defensive backs – they executed the game plan perfectly. Our kids are ballhawks”
Schlemmer said Kaneland receiver Josh Marczuk was a big focus during Sterling’s prep. The Knights' most explosive weapon came into Saturday's game with 40 receptions for 716 yards and 12 touchdowns, but the Golden Warriors limited him to just two catches for 58 yards.
“We watched film and he pops off,” Schlemmer said of Marczuk. “They put him on either side so you really can’t take one guy with him. We always wanted to know where he was. He’s one of the better receivers that we’ve seen throughout the year.”
With Marczuk bottled up for a majority of the contest, fellow senior receiver Alex Moses was a bright spot for Kaneland. Douglas found him on a few occasions down the middle – a part of Sterling’s defense Moses said he knew the Knights could expose. Moses led all receivers with six catches for 101 yards and one touchdown.
Moses said. “Their defense was a lot better than I thought … we couldn’t get anything going against them. They’re just better than us.”
Kaneland concludes its season with a 7-4 record. After starting the year 2-3, the Knights rallied off five-straight wins, including a 47-0 first round playoff win over Lindblom.
“This year was everything I could have asked for,” Douglas said. “We ended the regular season as best as we could and we were hot coming into the playoffs … You can’t have them all.”