The players on the Kaneland football team are so ready for the postseason to start, coach Pat Ryan said, they're even pumped up by practicing in snow.
Ryan said there's a new energy around the team as the No. 6 Knights head into their Class 6A playoff opener against No. 11 Crystal Lake Central.
"I think our kids are excited about having to play someone very good," Ryan said. "The playoffs bring a rejuvenation to our ball club a little bit. I think the kids are excited for the new feel to things. Everybody is 0-0 in terms of record now. And the weather surprisingly has sparked our kids a little bit."
The Knights (7-2) won five of their final six games this year after a Week 3 loss to Sycamore, 35-14. The only other blemish was a Week 8 loss at Morris, 35-30.
Ryan said there were some lessons to take from the losses about having to connect on big plays and becoming more physical up front. But most of all, he said, is the team needs to keep a good mindset through the ups and downs of a close game.
The Morris game was the only one this season for the Knights decided by fewer than three scores.
"We have to keep playing," Ryan said. "In a good game the other team is going to have things happen that might not look so good for us. They might get a touchdown. They might get a turnover. They might get a sack. But we have to just keep playing. We can't go in the tank a little bit. I think that might have happened in those losses, some bad things happened and then our minds weren't right. I think that changed Week 9 for us. Our minds were better."
The Knights ended the regular season with a 31-0 win against LaSalle-Peru, their third shutout of the season.
Ryan said the defense for the Knights will need to be on top of its game against Crystal Lake Central quarterback Aidan Ellinger, who has completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 1,381 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this year.
That involves keeping pressure on him, he said. Garrison Trebolo leads the team with three sacks, while Conner Collins, Wilson Giffney and Ian Diehl have two each.
"Their quarterback is very accurate and has a real nice touch on the ball," Ryan said. "They have good receivers. I think the key for us is to slow down their passing attack. If we get pressure on the quarterback it'll be good for us. The defensive line has kind of been an area we said has had to get better. And we've done a pretty good job at that. We just have to step it up a little more and get more pressure on the QB. We can't let him sit back there and pick us apart."