HINCKLEY — There are times when it seems an athlete can do little wrong, and no matter what the opposing team tries to do to slow them down, it's to no avail.
That was the case for Earlville junior Devyn Kennedy during Thursday night's championship match of the 38th annual Little Ten Conference Boys Soccer Tournament against Newark-Seneca here at Hinckley-Big Rock High School.
Kennedy scored three goals — including the match's first tally just over a minute in — and also passed off for a pair of assists to help the top-seeded Red Raiders capture their third consecutive tournament title with a 5-1 victory over the No. 3-seeded Norsemen, who also fell to Earlville in last year's final.
"This is extra special definitely, to be able to score three goals and our team winning this for the third straight season ... this is just going to motivate us heading into regionals next week," said Kennedy, who now has 15 goals and 17 assists on the campaign. "The first one really got everyone going ... I felt like we grabbed the momentum and never let it go. I'm going to try a keep the same energy I had tonight and hopefully score three more next week to help our team win a regional again.
"Early in the season, we struggled a little bit, but right now we are really clicking. We were ready to go from the start tonight and I think it showed."
After Kennedy gave Earlville (15-2) the early lead on a chipped goal on which he was able to outrun two N-S defenders and beat keeper Silas Odum, the Red Raiders made it 2-0 with 22 minutes, 54 seconds left in the opening half when sophomore Bryar Keller found the back of the net off a crossing pass from Kennedy.
Then, after Earlville had a pair of shots hit the crossbar, Kennedy struck again at the 5:53 mark. After a foul, an alert quick restart by Landon Larkin just outside the Norsemen third found Jarred Fries at the top of the box and his flick backward found Kennedy, who scored from 15 yards out.
Newark-Seneca (11-9-1) made it a two-goal contest just 39 seconds later when Stevie Martin took advantage of a miscommunication in the Earlville defense, picked up a loose ball and chipped a shot in to make it 3-1 heading to halftime.
"If we don't give up that early goal and we hang in there for a while, anything can happen," said Newark-Seneca coach Jane Crowe. "I really felt at halftime that even though we were down 3-1 we were OK, but then (Earlville) scored again right away to start the second half ... that really turned things for us. It's something that has been a problem for us all season, giving up quick goals, and it just comes down to coming out stronger in each half.
"We needed to match Earlville's intensity and we just didn't do that. I think it may be a little bit in our heads, playing them five times in the last two years and not being able to beat them. Instead of coming out confident to start, we were a little back on our heels."
The Red Raiders did indeed strike quickly in the latter half as Fries poked home a score at the goal mouth off a Kennedy pass just 39 seconds in. Kennedy then completed the hat trick with 26:50 left to go on a 18-yard strike from the left wing.
"Scoring early was something we not only talked a lot about Wednesday at practice, but again before the match tonight," said Earlville coach Larry Heiden. "We also talked a lot about finishing the chances when we had them because Silas is a two-time — and without a doubt will be a three-time — all-conference keeper and they have very good defenders in Steve Bartkus and Cody Kinsella back there, as well. The longer the match stayed close, the more confidence that would give Newark-Seneca, we needed to find a way and then just over a minute into things, we did."
Indian Creek defeated Serena 5-3 in the third-place match as the Timberwolves received a hat trick from Cam Russell and two goals from Drew Gaston to top the Huskers. Serena goals were scored by Conner Holdiman, Joe Espinal and Camden Figgins.
Hinckley-Big Rock shutout Somonauk 1-0 in the consolation championship.