Sycamore quarterback Grant McConkey tries to put a move on DeKalb's Brayten Wilkerson during the First National Challenge Friday in Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Sycamore quarterback Grant McConkey tries to put a move on DeKalb's Brayten Wilkerson during the First National Challenge Friday in Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. — Mark Busch - mbusch@shawmedia.com

SYCAMORE – A week after a standout passing game by Grant McConkey, Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said he feels comfortable with his Spartans throwing the ball more.

And that sounds fine to the senior quarterback.

"It's exciting," McConkey said. "It's always good to be challenged."

McConkey completed 14 of 15 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns as Sycamore went from being shutout against DeKalb in Week 2 to a crucial 35-14 win against Kaneland in Week 3 to open play in the Interstate Eight.

Sycamore (2-1 overall, 1-0 Interstate Eight) had scored 24 points in its opener, although the offense scored just one touchdown and a field goal, with the Spartans getting an interception return for a score and a kickoff runback in the shutout win against Washington.

Manny Dominguez was hurt in the opening drive of that game and didn't return until the Kaneland game. Of the heels of a 13-0 loss without him to DeKalb, coach Joe Ryan wanted to throw the ball more against the Knights.

"I think we needed to open it up more," Ryan said. "We thought it would give our athletes a better chance to perform. Again, I keep saying it, but getting Manny back – that's one big athlete that allows us to do some of those things."

Ryan said it wasn't a one-week aberration – he wants to set McConkey and the offense loose. The Spartans host Ottawa on Friday (1-2, 0-1), which is coming off a 13-0 loss to Plano.

"This is kind of where we wanted to be, and we would have gone here from Week 1," Ryan said. "But again, we lose (Dominguez), and we have to tighten down some of the things we want to do because not everybody is as up to speed as Manny in that position. So you tighten things down, limit your playbook a little. But now it's wide open again."

McConkey said the one play that stood out to him was his fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Gavin Crofoot from 27 yards out. The score put the Spartans ahead 28-14. He said he put the ball into coverage and Crofoot made a great play to come away with it.

"I give that one to Gavin," McConkey said. "He just found a way to catch it."

For Ryan, he said he was impressed by a pass two plays before that touchdown, when McConkey was leveled on a dropback but still found Jason O'Donnell for a 36-yard gain, setting up the pass to Crofoot two plays later.

The Knights just scored to cut the lead to seven after Sycamore led 21-0 earlier in the game.

Ryan said the play was a play-action, but the run wasn't sold very well and the defense read it from the start. And it didn't stop McConkey from throwing the deep out to O'Donnell.

"He saw that defensive end coming, and he knew he was going to get hit, and he sat back and still threw a great ball," Ryan said. "He knew he was going to get hit on that one, took the hit, and threw a great ball to OD."

Even though Dominguez is back for the Spartans, the team is still facing injury issues. Lead running Logan Egler is done for the year, and Samuel Etienne will start at fullback for him – he had eight carries for 26 yards last week.

But backs like De'Shaun Harris, Crofoot, Kyle Antos and Dominguez will all cycle through and get carries, Ryan said.

On top of Egler, both Preston Ruud and Jase Hayes are day-to-day according Ryan – they'll be back, he said, but the team doesn't know if it's this week or next week at Sandwich.

McConkey said a performance like Friday does a lot for both him and the team moving forward.

"Just hearing stuff like 'Oh, I don't know if we can throw this year,' then coming out and having only one incompletion or whatever it was, it gave me a lot of confidence," McConkey said.

Ryan said McConkey's performance Friday cements as a true dual-threat quarterback.

"He's a running quarterback that can throw and I think that scares defensive coordinators to death," Ryan said. "You drop back into coverage, now there's lanes to run. If you rush him he'll throw the ball to whoever is open. Hopefully we'll be able to continue to do that, but we face good coaches. There's going to be some adjustments to what they saw on file Friday night"