In Illinois, the weather for high school playoff football can be less than optimal, with the distinct possibilities of cold, wind, rain and snow.
The first three graced Fenwick High School’s first-round IHSA Class 5A playoff game against Kaneland on Oct. 29 at Triton College in River Grove. But, after a sluggish start due to penalties and turnovers, the Friars pulled away for a 50-14 victory.
“It’s horrible for a quarterback. It’s like a monsoon out here,” said Fenwick quarterback Kaden Cobb. “You’ve got to fight through conditions sometimes.”
Ball security is important when playing in the rain, and Fenwick (8-2) began the evening on a sour note with Cobb intercepted by Kaneland’s Alex Panico on the opening possession near his own 30. Gifted a short field, the Knights (5-5) cashed in with a 1-yard touchdown run by Anthony Urban. However, Kaneland’s kicker missed the point after, leaving Knights with a 6-0 advantage.
The Friars responded with a quick scoring drive as Cobb found wide receiver Eian Pugh for an 18-yard touchdown pass. Iain Ramage’s extra point gave Fenwick a 7-6 lead at the 5:05 mark of the opening quarter.
“We stayed composed,” Cobb said. “We could’ve easily crumbled after the interception, but we bounced back and did our jobs.”
Later in the quarter, Fenwick defensive lineman Quin Wieties strip-sacked Knights quarterback Troyer Carlson, and Conor Paris recovered the ball at his 45. A 32-yard reception by Bryan Hunt Jr. got the Friars deep into Kaneland territory, but on the first play of the second quarter, Cobb couldn’t hold on to a snap, and Kaneland’s Jackson Marler recovered the ball on the Knights’ 7.
But, the Friars’ defense immediately picked up the offense as Carlson fumbled on the next play and Conor Paris picked up his second recovery of the night at the Kaneland 13. It took Fenwick two plays to find the end zone as Cobb scored on a 7-yard keeper.
The Friars then tacked on two more scores — a 1-yard run by Cobb and a 6-yard run by Jacque Walls (filling in for running back Danny Kent ) — to raise their advantage to 29-6 with 6:04 remaining in the half.
“Protecting the ball was key for us,” Cobb said. “We fumbled [in the red zone], but we got it right back from our great defense and scored.”
Carlson’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Dom DeBlasio, followed by a two-point conversion, made the score 29-14 with 3:06 left before halftime. But Martin Paris’ subsequent 70-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was a backbreaker, and Cobb’s third touchdown run (9 yards) gave Fenwick a commanding 43-14 lead at intermission. Later, Max Reese scored on a 20-yard run to account for the final score.
“Jacque has been telling me since Week 2 that he’s ready to go [at running back],” said Fenwick coach Matt Battaglia of Walls, who ran for 110 yards on 12 carries. “I told him his time was going to come, and he stepped up big time for us.”
The Friars also got good efforts from two players promoted from the program’s lower levels — sophomore running back Will Gladden and freshman defensive end Nate Marshall.
“Will was playing quarterback for the sophomores, and we called him up to play running back. He pounced at his opportunity,” Battaglia said. “Going into Week 10, we’re a little banged up, and adding these extra guys really helps protect the team and also gives us a spark.”
Fenwick will travel to Rockford-Boylan for their second-round playoffs game. Date and time will be announced later.