By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
Quincy Notre Dame defensive tackle Jimmy Kase figured when he drove Peotone quarterback Brandon Wenzel to the ground something fortunate might happen.
"I was hoping when I saw the ball wasn't in his hands that someone on our team caught it," Kase said.
The sound of the crowd let him know who had the ball.
"Our home fans started cheering as loud as they could," Kase said.
QND linebacker Luke Frieden intercepted Wenzel's up-for-grabs pass, stealing the momentum from Peotone's surging offense and allowing the Raiders to finish off a 23-14 victory Saturday in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
"All the momentum left and was shifted to our side right there," Frieden said. "It was huge."
The Blue Devils never recovered, not even after a 69-yard pass play.
The Raiders took a nine-point lead on Brady Genenbacher's touchdown with 4 minutes, 24 seconds left in regulation — it was his third 1-yard scoring play of the game — and forced the Blue Devils to begin the ensuing possession at their own 20-yard line.
On the first play, Wenzel was hit from the blindside as he set to pass, and a wobbly ball floated over the middle. Peotone wide receiver Andrew Marganski snared the pass and turned it into a 69-yard play, setting the Blue Devils up with first and 10 at the Raiders' 11-yard line.
On the next play, however, Peotone tried to run wide receiver Joey Janutis on an end around.
Janutis, who returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in the first half, was caught from behind by QND safety Jordan Chapel for a 5-yard loss that stall the drive. The Blue Devils were forced to attempt a 30-yard field goal, which the Raiders blocked with 2:50 to play.
QND subsequently ran out the clock with its final drive.
"That's the play of the game right there," QND coach Bill Connell said. "Chapel left his free safety position because he read that play, and he got to him. We had a lot of big plays today. That was one of the biggest."
It helped secure QND's spot in the state quarterfinals for the seventh time in school history. The Raiders (10-1) will face Rock Island Alleman at 2 p.m. Saturday at Augustana College in Rock Island. The Pioneers (9-2) advanced with a 35-20 victory over Mahomet-Seymour.
"It means a lot," Kase said of reaching the quarterfinals. "Last year, we were upset in the first round by Macomb. We never forgot that. So being that this is my senior year, this is a great feeling."
It took a bend-but-don't-break attitude to get this far.
QND led 16-7 at halftime on the strength of a ball-control offense. The Raiders ran 42 plays in the first half, gained 13 first downs, racked up 163 yards and kept the Blue Devils' playmakers from doing much.
Peotone ran only 19 offensive plays in the first half, managed just three first downs and had only 53 yards of total offense. Only Janutis' kickoff return kept it from being a three-possession lead.
However, the Blue Devils finally found some rhythm on their second possession of the third quarter. A 67-yard scoring drive featured four runs of 10 or more yards and ended with Isaac Battiato's 1-yard touchdown plunge that pulled Peotone within 16-14.
"I think we were kind of rattled," Freiden said. "When they kept getting big plays on us, we kind of got rattled. We fought back from that."
Everything hinged on that interception.
Following Peotone's touchdown, QND moved the ball 32 yards in three plays, setting up at the Blue Devils' 33-yard line. However, three straight incompletions forced the Raiders to turn the ball over on downs.
The Raiders admittedly felt the game slipping away.
Kase refused to let that happen.
"They had a smaller guy in front of me," Kase said. "I knew if I got off the ball fast enough I could blow right through him."
Wenzel and the Blue Devils weren't expecting it.
"That was a major momentum swing right there," Genenbacher said. "Momentum is one of the biggest things in a football game. Luke came out and gave us a huge momentum swing. We just got it done."