MUNSTER | Kankakee Valley coach Brad Stewart has been part of conference championships and many other Gatorade-drenching celebrations before, but Friday night was a new experience for his Kougars players.
Kankakee Valley survived a slow offensive start in the first half to defeat Munster 31-21 in Northwest Crossroads Conference action, earning a share of the NCC title.
“To my kids, this is a first,” Stewart said. “This is the greatest thing that could happen to these kids. What’s rewarding for me is to see these kids’ hard work and offseason commitment and effort pay off.”
For seniors such as Mark Lukacek, winning a share of the NCC has been an ultimate high point in their careers.
“It means absolutely everything after what we’ve went through for the last three years of being a down program,” he said. “To finally have a successful year, it’s been great.”
The Kougars survived an offensive flurry from Munster, as running back Ernest Carter gave the Mustangs an 80-yard touchdown run and a 14-7 lead on the opening offensive play of the second half.
However, Kankakee Valley (8-1, 5-1 NCC) quickly squashed any potential momentum the Mustangs could have built, as Lukacek took the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown, tying the game 14-14 before Carter sprinted 71 yards down the middle of the field to put Munster up 21-14 with 10:05 left in the third quarter.
“My boys up front had some great blocks, and it was easy,” Lukacek said of his touchdown return. “All I had to do was find one cut and I was gone. They did the rest.”
The Kougars would get a 4-yard touchdown run from Tyler Birky before Joel Bolen gave Kankakee Valley a 28-21 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 38-yard run which appeared to be salvaging a broken play.
Lukacek then sealed the game with a 39-yard field goal with 4:57 left in the game.
Touchdowns came at a premium during the first half with superb defensive efforts from both teams.
Munster (2-7, 1-5) drew first blood when quarterback Seth Gutwein scrambled into the end zone on a 5-yard keeper to give the Mustangs a 7-0 lead with 2:23 left in the first quarter.
The Kougars, normally full of firepower in their ground attack, were held in check during the first half. Birky was held to just 26 rushing yards, and the only big play the Mustangs allowed was a 22-yard rushing touchdown to Keegan Higgins, which tied the game 7-7 right before halftime.
Carter led all offensive players with 192 rushing yards.