Crete-Monee beats rival Kankakee to win Southland title, finish unbeaten

Kankakee, which was trying to win its first Southland Conference title, saw more than enough of Charles Smith and Charles Joseph on Saturday in Crete.

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Crete-Monee’s Charles Smith (4) throws a pass against Kankakee.

Crete-Monee’s Charles Smith (4) throws a pass against Kankakee.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

It’s Charles Smith and Charles Joseph on the Crete-Monee roster, but in real life, they prefer to be called Chuckie and Chance, respectively. 

Kankakee, which was trying to win its first Southland Conference title, saw more than enough of them Saturday in Crete. 

Smith is a strong and athletic 6-2, 215-pound quarterback, and Joseph is a crafty junior running back. They combined with eye-opening sophomore Joshua Franklin to lead the Warriors to a 37-20 victory against the Kays. 

The win locked up an undefeated season and the conference title for Crete-Monee (5-0, 5-0 Southland). 

“The guys were unbelievable this season,” Warriors coach John Konecki said. “We came into this game averaging 55.75 points, and we did a nice job again today. I would have liked to see what they could have done in the playoffs.”

Joseph, a transfer from Lincoln-Way East, had 18 carries for 112 yards and scored on a 44-yard run in the third quarter. 

“It was great to finally play in a close game,” Joseph said. “I think it really energized me.”

Smith was 10-for-21 for 88 yards and three touchdowns. 

“[Smith] is so composed, and he’s really bright,” Konecki said. “He’s just a tremendous leader. With guys like that, it makes it easy to do my job. There are times out there where he has autonomy and he’s making some decisions. He’s as good as I’ve ever had at quarterback.’’ 

Two of the touchdown passes went to Franklin, who had seven catches for 45 yards and broke loose for a 90-yard kickoff-return touchdown in the third quarter. 

“Franklin is a tremendous talent,” Konecki said. “He’s dangerous in all phases of the game — the passing game, the running game and the return game.’’

Franklin’s return was a backbreaker for the Kays. It came right after Ty Stewart scored on a 22-yard run to pull Kankakee to 22-7 with 4:34 left in the third quarter. 

“It was frustrating,” Kankakee coach Derek Hart said. “We like to play physical, and that cost us a little today because of how things went. It’s tough getting out of a hole like that.”

Kankakee (4-2, 4-1) was only down 14-0 at halftime but trailed by 30 midway through the fourth quarter. 

Kays quarterback Tomele Staples threw two touchdown passes in the final few minutes, a 35-yard score to Aveon Pittman and a 15-yarder to Johnathan Pitts. 

“Our defense played well enough for us to win, and we didn’t play as good on special teams and on offense,” Hart said. 

The Kays were without their top defensive player, lineman Willie Norwood, who left for a family vacation Friday. 

“That’s tough,” Hart said. “We practiced all week with him and thought we had him. He’s on special teams, and he’s our leader on defense. We found out yesterday he wasn’t playing.”

The conference title clearly meant a lot to both teams. A few scuffles broke out on the last few snaps as Crete-Monee took a knee to run out the final seconds. 

“There was some heat on both sides in this one,” Smith said. “But it was fun to play a great team like Kankakee. They came in prepared. 

“I wish we had a playoff run because I feel we would have gone far.”

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