JOHNSBURG – Two-time defending Kishwaukee River Conference champion Johnsburg needed a peak performance from its defense Friday night.
Junior inside linebacker Justin Peake put the finishing touch on it in a tense conference opener when visiting Burlington Central lined up to go for a potential game-winning two-point conversion with a minute left in the fourth quarter.
Peake stormed in untouched on Rockets quarterback Jake Lenschow and batted away his pass to preserve a 14-13 victory as the Skyhawks (2-1, 1-0) improved to 13-0 in the KRC since the league formed in 2016.
"Before the snap I told myself, 'If I see a hole, I have to go to the quarterback and try to make a play,' " said the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Peake, who sealed the win by recovering the ensuing onside kick. "I ended up hitting the ball. I was overwhelmed when I looked at the sidelines and everyone was going crazy and congratulating us."
It was a much different feeling than two weeks ago when the Skyhawks lost by a point to Marian Central. They took a 14-7 lead with 7:20 to play after Jake McKinney (17 carries, 84 yards) scored on runs of 34 and 2 yards in a span of 5:27.
"The [Jonathan Preston] interception was definitely a game-changer," said Johnsburg defensive end Cole Romano (three sacks and two tackles for loss) of the play to set up McKinney's first score.
Burlington answered with a 13-play, 71-yard drive that took 6:13 off the clock. Lenschow (11 for 18, 162 yards) went 4 for 4, with two third-down conversions to Kyle Moring (five catches, 120 yards), and then eluded a blitz by Peake to hit Matt Ganziano for a 4-yard touchdown on second-and-goal.
"I was expecting them to go for two," said Johnsburg coach Sam Lesniak. "I figured if they went down and scored, they would go for two and try to win the game."
Burning their last two timeouts didn't change the Rockets' plan of playing for the win. Peake made sure Lenschow didn't get away this time.
"We talked before the game about going out and taking something," said Rockets coach Brian Melvin, whose team lost its first two games by a combined 68-13. "Against a team like Johnsburg at their place, when you have the momentum like that, you've got to take it. I'd do it again and again.
"It was actually open … but the kid just made a great play. It was a great high school football play and a great high school football game."
The Rockets took a 7-0 lead just before halftime on Lenschow's 5-yard touchdown pass to Layn Reynolds. Peake, Romano, defensive end Eric Johnson and inside linebacker Ryan Linkletter (two tackles for loss and a sack each) and Kevin Shaffer helped keep the Skyhawks in the game by allowing only 136 yards until the final drive.
"That was pretty nerve-wracking, especially with the loss against Marian coming down to the final play," Romano said. "We needed to prove ourselves and get a stop and get the win."
STAR OF THE GAME
Justin Peake, Johnsburg, jr., ILB
Peake batted away the potential game-winning two-point conversion pass by Burlington Central with a minute to play and then recovered the ensuing onside kick. Peake also batted down another pass in the second half and had three tackles for loss.
Burlington Central 0 7 0 6 – 13
Johnsburg 0 0 7 7 – 14
BC–Reynolds 5 pass from Lenschow (Solomon kick), 1:46
J–McKinney 34 run (Kegel kick), :47
J–McKinney 2 run (Kegel kick), 7:20
BC–Ganziano 4 pass from Lenschow (pass failed), 1:00