MAPLE PARK – Dylan Calabrese had to reach behind his body to come up with a one-handed interception of Crystal Lake Central quarterback Aidan Ellinger.
The Kaneland senior linebacker took off from about midfield, cut to the left sideline and made a beeline for the end zone in an attempt for his first career touchdown.
He was tackled at the 1-yard line.
“I was just running off the field, I was like, ‘Oh man, everybody is going to give me some grief for this,’ ” Calabrese said with a chuckle. “But I just tried to get the ball back for my offense. Scoring’s not my job. I know my role.”
Two plays later, the Knights’ offense scored, building the lead to 38 points against the Tigers on Friday in an eventual 41-13 win in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs, earning a chance to play Saturday at No. 14-seeded Lake Forest (6-4) in the second round.
Calabrese was right about the teasing, too. On Thursday, coach Pat Ryan brought it up in jest while commenting on how impressed he was with the athleticism Calabrese showed on the play.
“I wish he would have gotten in the end zone on it,” Ryan said, raising his voice and jokingly looking right at Calabrese, standing about 10 feet away. “But yeah, it was a really great play.”
Calabrese leads the team with 66 tackles this year and has been the leading tackler in four games.
“He brings a lot of energy,” Ryan said. “He can play a lot of different positions. He has a lot of football sense and makes good tackles. He has good vision.”
Now the No. 6-seeded Knights (8-2) face a Scouts team that has won four of its past five. They’ve won two straight in comeback fashion just to get this far.
The Scouts were down 20 points to Stevenson in a battle of 4-4 teams in Week 9, coming back for a 28-27 win. Then last week at Belvidere North, they came back from two touchdowns down to win, 21-14.
“When we were down, no one was in panic mode that things didn’t go our way,” Lake Forest coach Chuck Spagnoli said. “Initially you tighten up a bit, but that never happened.”
Ryan said his team can’t get comfortable should they get in front at any point.
“If we get a lead, we have to play like we’re not satisfied,” Ryan said. “They’ve proven two weeks in a row they can come back. We have to keep playing, and if we get a lead, not get comfortable.”
Spagnoli said the Scouts try to run a balanced attack, but weather the past few weeks has forced them to run more.
The Knights normally air it out, with quarterback Joe Smith passing for 1,569 yards while completing 61% of his passes for 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. But Spagnoli said the Scouts can’t overlook the Knights’ ground game – three different players had at least 80 yards last week, including a team-best 92 for Smith.
“They obviously have a good quarterback and a few good receivers,” Spagnoli said. “The thing we have to be careful with is they run the ball well also. We have to try and limit their plays and that sounds easier than it is, I’m sure. We just need to be very, very stingy with what we do and stingy with what they can get.”
Spagnoli said the Scouts are ready for the challenge.
“We’ll have to do what every good team does – control the football, not turn it over and win the field position battle,” Spagnoli said. “I’m not being trite with it at all, but at this point there are no teams that have no idea what they’re doing. They are more than capable, and we have to play our best ball.”