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Fenwick beats Kankakee to win its first football state championship

The Friars beat Kankakee 34-15 to win the Class 5A state championship.

Fenwick’s Jimmy Liston (64) raises the trophy as teammates celebrate winning the 5A State title game against Kankakee.
Fenwick’s Jimmy Liston (64) raises the trophy as teammates celebrate winning the 5A State title game against Kankakee.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

DeKalb—Fenwick coach Matt Battaglia decided he didn’t want his team to arrive at Huskie Stadium asleep. So he had the team bus pull over at the DeKalb Oasis, woke his players up and had them get out and “go crazy” at 7 a.m. on Saturday.

“That shows what kind of coach he is and how much he cares about the players,” Friars senior Max Reese said. “He’s a great guy. He’s very extreme.”

The tactic appeared to work. Fenwick certainly started the morning game red-hot, scoring four unanswered touchdowns in the first half. The Friars beat Kankakee 34-15 to win the Class 5A state championship, the first in school history.

“I’m still shocked,” Fenwick senior defensive lineman Suleiman Abuaqel said. “This is the dream our team had. We were always talking about it. Our football group chat that we made last year is literally named ‘state champs 2021.’”

The Friars (12-2) were known for a dangerous passing attack this season. Ball State recruit Kaden Cobb and the Fenwick receivers did their usual thing, but unheralded running back Danny Kent may have keyed the win.

“We knew we were going to be able to run our power play pretty well,” Kent said. “The O-line took care of it.”

Kent had 31 carries for 212 yards and a touchdown. Cobb was 11-for-18 for 146 yards with three touchdowns. Reese had three catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Eian Pugh caught five passes for 24 yards and Bryant Hunt opened the scoring with a 21-yard TD reception.

“It’s surreal...this team earned it,” Battaglia said. “I’ve got some time to kill designing a big, big ring now. This is the best. People don’t realize the kids, the faculty, everything is top notch. A lot of the success is due to the school itself.”

Fenwick’s Danny Kent (11) runs with the ball against Kankakee.
Fenwick’s Danny Kent (11) runs with the ball against Kankakee.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Fenwick held Kankakee’s explosive offense to 227 total yards and just 38 yards rushing. Quarterback Tomele Staples was 17 of 37 with one interception and one touchdown for the Kays (13-1).

Senior linebacker Conor Paris led the Friars’ defensive effort with two sacks and an interception.

“What these kids did this year was something,” Kankakee coach Derek Hart said. “We knew it was going to be tough to run the ball but we thought we’d be able to get something here and there but they did a really good job at defending us.”