KNIGHTS COME UP SHORT IN MSL CHAMPIONSHIP NAIL-BITER

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Junior Owen Walter (#1) celebrates a 19 yard touchdown with senior Matt Pankauskas (#77) in the MSL championship game against Barrington. (photo by Alexis Esparza)

Cameron Sullivan, Online Editor-in-Chief

It was late in the third quarter of the Prospect Knights 52-45 loss in the MSL championship game against the Barrington Broncos, when it looked like the Knights might be coming back. The Knights defense applied some phenomenal pressure on Broncos quarterback Peter Anderson which led to an intentional grounding in the endzone, resulting in a safety.

“Right when those big plays happen, [for] me personally, I just blank out,” junior wide receiver Owen Walter said. “I’m just as happy as I can possibly be. Just screaming and yelling, I just feel like every muscle in my body is tensing up.” 

Unfortunately for the Knights, they weren’t able to ride this momentum as their next drive stalled out, which led to the Broncos coming down and kicking a field goal to make the score 45-37. However, the Knights wouldn’t go down that easily.

Senior Gary Moeller led the team down the field and was able to connect with senior Tyson Splinter for a nine yard touchdown with under five minutes to play. They would then connect once again for a 2-point conversion to tie the game up 45-45.

“[This game] reminded me of the Dekalb game [from] last year where it was like back and forth, back and forth,” head coach Dan Deboeuf said. “ … It was exciting to feel that juice of a really close game and [I] was super proud of our team, we were down 35-21 at the end of the half. They could’ve folded but they battled all the way to the end, and we were really one play away from winning.”

That play would come after the Broncos drove down the field and took a 52-45 lead after Bryan Smith was able to score his third touchdown of the game, and the Knights would drive back down the field only to have their season ended by a Jackson Gehrisch interception. 

“We were just super grateful that we were able to play six games,” Deboeuf said. “Even though we lost … I thought it was a really cool experience. The kids had something to play for, and it seemed like a playoff game type atmosphere so I wouldn’t change that at all.”

While the game wasn’t in the Knights favor, they still had some big time plays and huge performances. Senior Luke Zardzin had 246 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns while Moeller was 31 for 48 with 300 yards passing and four touchdowns through the air and one on his feet. 

The wide receiver trio of Splinter, Walter and sophomore Frank Covey were also big factors for the Knights as they each caught at least one touchdown.

“I think we had almost 700 yards of offense and against a team that really hasn’t given up much all year … I think that was a huge step for our program and I think we’re right there to where we can make some serious noise.”

While the Knights only played six games this season, they had a lot of accomplishments during this time. Some of the big time performers this season were Zardzin, who finished with 741 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing, Moeller, who had 1,097 yards and 14 touchdowns passing, and Covey, who finished the year with 458 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.

The team also finished with a 5-1 record and won the MSL East, however; Deboeuf has something else he’s proud of. 

“The team’s ability to handle adversity, if you look week by week there was always something,” Deboeuf said. “Whether it’s kids being quarantined for COVID[-19], game times getting switched, injuries, there is something every single week … this group seemed to get better the more adversity they saw.”

Along with the adversity, the team was just happy to have a season. While the season comes to a close, it’s something that Walter looks back on. 

“I couldn’t ask for a better season,” Walter said. “Some of my closest friends I got to play with, some great, great football players, great athletes, great friends and teammates. It felt like another family being on the field with all of them. I was happy how we all played, how hard we all worked and how we didn’t even know we were going to have a season and we still battled through.”