'Game of my life': Metamora senior adds to family's long, successful football legacy
METAMORA — Tyler Kasap was born and raised on Metamora football, in a family where the Redbirds are a way of life.
And the senior defensive end and tight end played the game of a lifetime Saturday in what could prove to be his last game at Malone Field.
He stopped two drives with sacks, grabbed a batted ball out of the air for a Pick-6 and caught a touchdown pass to help Metamora to a 68-34 pounding of Jacksonville (6-4).
The Redbirds (7-3) move on next weekend to a second-round game at Mahomet-Seymour (10-0).
"I never scored a touchdown before," said Kasap grinning as he gathered on the field with his family. "My brothers didn't do it, so I guess this gives me some huge bragging rights forever.
"But no doubt about it — this was the game of my life."
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Kasap slid across the middle of the end zone to catch a 5-yard scoring toss from quarterback Kaden Hartnett that gave the Redbirds a 24-8 lead with 5:51 left in the second quarter.
Then he delivered a knockout punch amid a Metamora charge that saw three touchdowns in a span of 1:50 and put the game out of reach in the third quarter.
Jacksonville quarterback Elijah Owens, under a Redbirds rush, had his pass batted into the air at the line with 5:06 left in the third quarter. The ball came down in Kasap's arms and he took off for a 25-yard Pick-6 and a 46-21 lead.
"My eyes got huge," Kasap said. "Just being in the right place at the right time. And the (touchdown catch from Hartnett) was my first touchdown ever. I'm never going to forget the way that felt. My first touchdown, then a defensive touchdown, sacks and my first playoff game.
"No doubt about it, game of my life."
A football family tree
Tyler Kasap's father, Jim, played at Western Illinois University and has been the Metamora defensive line coach — his son's position coach — for 23 years.
"Tyler has been coming to games since the day he was born," Jim Kasap said. "He's always been around this team. He's a great athlete, and he does the work, so watching him do this today was just awesome."
Tyler Kasap is indeed an athlete. He was a thrower for Metamora's track team last season, and at one point was ranked seventh in the state in discus. The Kasap family tree has no shortage of athletes.
Jim Kasap's father, Mike Kasap, played at the University of Illinois and won a Rose Bowl. He served as a tank commander in the Marines, and after his college career he was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 12th round of the 1945 NFL Draft. He went on to play for the Baltimore Colts in the then-All America Football Conference.
Jim Kasap's uncle, George, also played at U of I.
But Tyler Kasap had another family member in mind when he stepped on the field Saturday.
"Tyler's uncle, Randy Kellet, died unexpectedly on Tuesday," Jim Kasap said. "We talked about it, told him to play for him today and leave it all on the field. He did that.
"The funeral was during the game today. When the game ended, standing there at midfield with the team, I could see tears in Tyler's eyes. It was emotional for him.
"Watching him play today, and how he handles himself, I'm just extremely proud of him."
The player gathered on the field with his father/coach after the game, joined by his mother, Julie, and older brothers Austin and Hunter. Both brothers also played for Metamora.
"My dad always tells me, 'Hard work, never take a play off, have the game of your life,' " Tyler Kasap said. "Well, I did."
The demise of the Jacksonville Crimsons
Jacksonville fell behind 16-0 midway through the first quarter and never really recovered.
Owens, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Indiana State-bound quarterback, was held to 5-of-13 passing for 114 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. He ran 14 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
Metamora, the No. 8 seed, got a big game from quarterback Kaden Hartnett. The senior carried 15 times for 87 yards and three touchdowns. He added 7-of-8 passing for 186 yards and four touchdowns. He threw an alley-oop pick toward the goal line as time expired in the first half.
Redbirds running back Kameron Davis ran 13 times for 119 yards.
Big moments, big thoughts
• Jacksonville was trying to hang in it when Metamora just blew up the contest in a span of 1:50 in the third quarter.
Hartnett ran across from the 2 for 40-21 lead with 6:06 left in the third quarter.
Sixty seconds later, Kasap's Pick-6 happened for 46-21. Then 50 seconds after that, Metamora senior defensive lineman Drew Hanson recovered a Jacksonville fumble in the end zone for 54-21.
That set the game well on a path to a running clock in the fourth quarter.
• Jacksonville pulled its seniors off the field for a final curtain call on its last possession in the fourth quarter. It left the Crimson without enough players on the field. They went ahead and ran the series with 10 players — and scored a touchdown on a 30-yard run by La'Marion Williams with 3:13 left.
• Metamora fans cheered for Jacksonville's seniors as they came off the field for the final time. Class move.
• The 68 points by Metamora were the most in a playoff game in school history. And the 102 combined points were the most in a playoff game in Metamora history.
• Former Peoria Rivermen athletic trainer Shane Hudson, who took care of the pro hockey team during its championship run last season in the SPHL, was on the Jacksonville sideline. He serves as trainer for the Crimson teams. Later Saturday night, he took in the Rivermen game at Carver Arena.
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. He can be reached at 686-3206 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.