KANKAKEE — For any future Kankakee opponents — “Welcome to the dark side.”
The dark side, the Kays’ opportunistic defense, shut down an over-matched Thornridge Falcons 62-0 Friday on Homecoming night.
“When [assistant] coach [Ed] Hazlett first came down here, he said, ‘We’ve got a new identity called the dark side,’” said senior Charles Weathersby III, who was the catalyst for the Kays, returning both a fumble and interception for touchdowns. “Ever since, we’ve just been rolling like that — the dark side.”
It’s the second straight shutout for Kankakee, as it improved to 5-1 overall and to 4-1 in the Southland Conference.
“The [dark side] obviously came out from the jump and kind of got us going,” first-year coach Derek Hart said. “We started a little slow offensively. We had one drive where we dropped a snap and then had a couple bad passes.
“They stepped up and really they were outscoring our offense after the first half. They brought the juice and got us going.”
After Mattias Clark finished a short drive with a 2-yard run to give the Kays an 8-0 lead in the first quarter, the dark side took over the game. Weathersby scooped up a fumble and scored from 40 yards out for a 16-0 lead with 11 minutes and 50 seconds left in the second quarter.
On Thornridge’s next possession, Ernest Robertson III intercepted a pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. Weathersby then harassed Thornridge quarterback Jarvis Bell deep in Falcon territory to throw an interception he returned 2 yards for the score.
In a span of 2:12 Kankakee scored three defensive touchdowns that ballooned the lead to 28-0.
“We lost early in the season on a fumble we could’ve scored, so when I saw it, I just grabbed it and had to pick it up and score,” Weathersby said. “On the pick six, I was just waiting for him to throw it, he threw it to me and I scored.”
Clark, who finished with 68 yards rushing, added an 11-yard TD sprint, and junior quarterback Tyaune Stewart tossed a three-yard scoring strike to Chico Spivery for a 44-0 halftime lead.
The Kays had a week off last week after a win via Rich South’s forfeit. Stewart said Friday’s performance helped them erase any possible rust from their prolonged period off.
“It was a long break and really it was just getting back to the feeling of the game,” said Stewart, who rushed for 50 yards.
The dark side dominated in the second half, too, blocking a punt to set up a score and recording a safety.
“We’re a defensive team,” Weathersby said. “We take pride in going out there every night, trying to get 50 to zero every game.”
The dark side is an identity Hazlett brought with him from his playing days at Warren Central in Indianapolis to Kankakee.
“[Hazlett] played with me in high school,” Hart said. “It was something we had there ... and we just kind of rolled with when we came here.”
Hazlett credits his high school defensive coordinator Steve Tutsie with the moniker.
“When I switched over to defense, he was like, ‘Welcome to the dark side,’” Hazlett said. “I just kind of ran with it from there.”
He was glad to dub the Kays’ defense the dark side.
“I understood they had talent, they just needed to be guided in the right direction,” he said.
Hart said Weathersby is the leader.
“He’s been playing great football all season long, and he’s kind of set the tone for our defense,” Hart said. “He’s been a leader for us, so obviously it showed tonight.”
Hazlett also brought the turnover chain that each defensive player gets to wear after a takeaway.
“We wanted to wait until homecoming [to bring it out], get the kids excited and the community excited and make it a big deal,” he said.
Kankakee now is playoff eligible with its fifth win.
“That was our goal from day one,” Hart said. “We’re one win away from clinching a playoff spot more than likely. So, obviously, it’s something we talk about, something we work on. It’s still a week-by-week season. We don’t look ahead, but our main goal is to get to the playoffs.”
“It feels good,” Stewart said. “But, at the same time, but we’ve got to keep going in practice, keep going hard every day — Monday through Thursday — and on Friday it pays off for us.”
The Kays will stay home again Friday when they host Bloom at 5:30 p.m.