KANKAKEE — With a total of four touchdowns taken off the scoreboard because of penalties in Friday night’s home meeting with Rich Township, Kankakee football coach Derek Hart knows his Kays have plenty of room for improvement halfway through the season. But he also knows he has a darn good football team that was able to overcome penalty issues on offense and dominate from start to finish defensively to still demolish Rich Township by a 35-0 score at home Friday night.

“Our defense played their butts off the whole game ...” Hart said. “The offense was better in the second half, but we’ve still [got to] get in the film room, work on some things and execute better.”

The win improved the Kays to 2-1 and 2-0 in the Southland Athletic Conference in a game they took a lead early into and held all night. After the Raptors’ opening drive quickly stalled out and led to a punt, Pittman, who wasn’t back deep as the team’s punt returner, made a head’s up play when he picked up a shanked punt with no defenders between him and the endzone, dashing 58 yards untouched to give the Kays an early 6-0 lead.

“Last week [against Thornwood] was the same thing; they’d punt it near me to where I could pick it up, and my coach was telling me to pick it up, but I left it there,” Pittman said. “I grabbed it tonight and knew I could score. My coach told me to grab it, so I was like, ‘Let me pick this up and take it to the crib.’”

As strange as it sounded for Hart to note his team could have done more than their 35-0 win indicated, he wasn’t wrong. The Kays’ defense gave the offense possession in Raptors territory for their first four drives of the game, but thanks to a slew of ill-timed penalties, only one of those drives resulted in points, when Pittman’s first of three rushing touchdowns came from 20 yards out two minutes into the second quarter.

The Kays again had some untimely penalties on their first drive of the third quarter, as Pittman scored twice but was called back because of a hold each time. He finally scored for real from 2 yards out to cap off a 13-play, 51-yard drive, and the team’s insistence to score was something Hart liked to see, but he also would like to see the penalties cut down.

“Our kids are resilient. They’ve been doing that all year long like they did last year, so that piece is great,” Hart said. “But we should only have to score once, and we should be able to fix those mistakes.”

Ty Stewart added a rushing touchdown early in the fourth before reserve running back Demere Turner scampered free for a 65-yard score midway through the quarter to put a stamp on the game.

As effective as the rushing attack was, Hart said it was the defense that showed out most. Led by Willie Norwood, who had a sack and four total tackles for a loss, the Kays sacked Raptors quarterback Jusdyn McDole four times and rack up a total of 14 tackles in the backfield, and Joeron Hill also picked off a pair of McDole passes.

“We always play aggressively with man-to-man [defense] and force you to throw it around and [defensive coordinator Ed] Hazlet has done a great job of that every week ...” Hart said. “We have a lot of young guys on this defense [who] played great tonight, but Willie Norwood really played his butt off tonight.”

STAT BOOK

Pittman totaled 124 rushing yards and his three rushing touchdowns on 17 carries to go with his special teams score, as the Kays ran for 279 yards as a team. Quarterback Tomele Staples was 8 for 16 for 98 yards. Johnathan Pitts was the team’s leading receiver with five catches for 54 yards.

UP NEXT

The Kays will look to remain perfect in the Southland when they take the road for the first time this season for a trip to Bloom at 7 p.m. Friday.

Mason Schweizer is an award-winning reporter who has been with the Daily Journal since 2017 and sports editor since 2019. Save for time at the University of Illinois and Wayne State College, Mason is a lifelong area resident.