Here we go again.
For the second year in a row, undefeated football teams from Morris and Kaneland will meet to decide the Northern Illinois Big 12 East Conference title with a No. 1 seed in the upcoming playoffs also likely at stake.
The game will feature the two stingiest defenses in the league as well as its top two offenses, although the more diversified host Knights have an edge with 345 points scored to the Redskins’ 266.
“They’ve given up 91 points and we’ve given up 95, so you’re going to have two good defenses on the field,” Kaneland Coach Tom Fedderly said. “(Indiana recruit Danny) Friend is a kid who, you’ve gotta know where he is all the time and you also have to be aware of their inside linebackers.”
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Friend is a defensive end. Defensive lineman Collin Grogan (5-9, 205) has eight sacks and Central Michigan recruit, 6-3, 220 linebacker Jeff Perry has 64 tackles (27 solo). Linebacker Nik Countryman (5-11, 200) has a team-high 65 tackles (33 solo) in six games.
Fedderly’s Knights squeaked past Brooks (5-2) in their opener and have outscored opponents by an average score of 45.7-9.3 since then. Their other non-conference win was a 52-35 rout of Huntley (5-3) and their two conference crossovers were a 42-0 pasting of 6-2 Sterling and 41-0 shellacking of 0-8 Streator.
Morris, squeaked out a 14-6 win over 3-5 Minooka and a 15-13 decision over 7-1 Richards in non-conference play then won crossover games against Geneseo (4-4) and Dixon (0-8) by scores of 43-0 and 53-6.
The Redskins are led by quarterback Zach Cinnamon, who has completed 30 of 51 passes for 579 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions and also run for 219 yards.
“What concerns me most of all is being able to stop their running game, they’re a pretty good running team,” Fedderly said. “Their quarterback, who transferred in from Streator, is a pretty good runner. They probably run about 80 percent of the time. They’ll spread it out still, but they’ll run out of that (formation) too.”
Running back Reese Sobol (5-11, 175) leads the Morris ground game with 807 yards and 10 TDs. Perry has run for 359 yards and Grogan 340. Anthonee Monson (11-189) is Cinnamon’s favorite target and Friend has eight catches for 192 yards.
Junior signal caller Drew David sat out last week’s 30-7 Kaneland win over Sycamore (which Morris beat 13-0) with an arm injury but could have played in the game and will start tonight. He’s thrown for 1,483 yards (74-127-10i, 19 TDs) and run for 320 yards.
Jesse Balluff leads the Knights’ run game (74-629 yards, 10 TDs). Zach Martinelli (25-465) and Dylan Nauert (18-463) are David’s top targets.
To date, 164 teams have clinched playoff berths in the eight-class postseason with 92 to be decided this weekend. In the Illinois High School Association’s weekly “playoff forecast,” the Knights and Redskins are ranked 1-2, respectively, in Class 5A. That’s due to their playoff point totals of 39 and 37, respectively, based on opponent wins.
There are five other undefeated teams projected in 5A, although Kaneland has bounced back and forth between 5A and 6A all season in that weekly outlook. Kaneland has an enrollment of 1,346 and would be one of the largest schools in the class (923-1,348), if the projection pans out. It would also include powerhouses like Marian Central, Montini and Joliet Catholic. The program could also be bumped up to 6A, where it would be one of the smallest in the 32-team field.
Kaneland, which will make its 17th playoff appearance in the past 18 years, has never been higher than 5A.