High School Football

Ross, late defensive stand lifts Mascoutah past Kankakee in Class 5A playoff game

In the history of Mascoutah High School football it will commonly be referred to as “The stand.”

On a night full of big plays, the Mascoutah defense saved the best for last Saturday, stopping Kankakee three times inside the 5-yard line in the final minute to clinch a come-from-behind 22-18 win in an IHSA Class 5A second round playoff game.

Trailing for the first time in the second half following a 3-yard run by Indians quarterback Devon Ross with less than 4 minutes remaining, Kankakee quarterback Tyjuane Stewart drove his team from his own 16-yard line to inside the Indians 5-yard line with under a minute remaining.

Stewart was stopped twice for no gain, setting up a fourth-and-two from the Indians 3-yard line with 17 seconds remaining. On the next play, the 5-10, 170-pound Stewart was hit, lunged forward but was stopped inches short of the first down as the Indians defense celebrated and the home crowd erupted.

“The defense came up huge when we needed it too,” an emotional Indians coach Josh Lee said. “This summer we were at a team camp at Lindenwood (University) and we were playing another team and with the score tied we had to have a tiebreaker. I remember (linebacker) Andrew Schultz was given the option and he said we would play defense first. We stopped the team.

“So in the last minute tonight, I reminded our defense of that. I just told them it’s one play for the season. They responded.”

The win lifts Mascoutah (8-3) into the Class 5A quarterfinal round next week at defending state champion Joliet Catholic. The quarterfinal round appearance is the first since 2008 for the Indians.

“It’s what we worked for all season,” Ross said. “The last drive we just kept believing and stayed positive like we have all year. I didn’t have the best game, but I didn’t get frustrated. The (offensive) line was great on the last drive and with the game on the line, the defense made big plays. It was a team effort.”

With senior running back Devin Wills rushing for 70 yards in the first quarter, Mascoutah took a 7-0 lead. His 1-yard run with 6:23 left in put the Indians ahead.

But the Kays dominated the rest of the first half. Senior Mattias Clark scored on a 30-yard run and Stewart connected on a 51-yard touchdown pass to Daquan Burns with 1:26 left in the first half to put Kankakee up 12-7.

Mascoutah linebacker Chase Hanson also spoiled a Kays drive in the second quarter by intercepting a Stewart pass in the end zone.

With Ross struggling and the Kays defense focusing on stopping Wills, the Indians needed and got the first of several big plays by their special teams. Senior Timothy Middleton picked up a Kays punt late in the third quarter and returned it 43-yards for a touchdown and a 13-12 Indians lead.

It didn’t last long as, less than a minute later, Clark scored again, this time on a 54-yard run as Kankakee retook the lead at 18-13.

With under 6 minutes left, Mascoutah punter Logen Timmon pinned the Kays inside the 3-yard line. Three plays later, the Kays center snapped the ball over Stewart’s head out of the end zone for a safety as the Kankakee lead was cut to 18-15.

The play set up the Indians winning drive. Following the free kick, Mascoutah took over at the Kankakee 39-yard line. Ross ran twice for 20 yards and when Wills broke loose on a 15-yard run, Mascoutah had the ball at the 3-yard line.

Ross then scored on the next play for the eventual game-winning score.

“They (Kankakee) were concentrating so hard on stopping Wills. Devon (Ross) did a nice job of faking and keeping the ball on the last drive,” Lee said. “He’s a strong kid. He’s hard to stop when he gets going with the football.”

But the Kays didn’t quit, marching the football inside the 5-yard line before being stopped.

“Mistakes really hurt us.. The two bad snaps from center ... the missed tackle on the punt return ... we just didn’t make the plays,” Kays coach Derek Hart said. “These kids have had a great season. It’s just sad when it has to end.”

And thanks to the team effort, Mascoutah will get a chance to play for at least one more week.

“I’m just so proud of these kids.. What this group has gone through and even the ones the couple of years before, to make this all happen, is truly remarkable,” Lee said. “Everybody — the offense, defense and the special teams with the punt return and our punter with the two great kicks — played a huge role in us winning the game tonight.”

Dean Criddle has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat for 32 years as a sports writer. Dean graduated from SIUE with a double major in journalism and English, is married and lives in Belleville.