When the game was on the line, Bolingbrook made sure the ball was in Aaron Bailey's hands, and the 6-foot-2 junior quarterback didn't disappoint.
Bailey's 60-yard scoring run and 2-point conversion plunge with 8:08 remaining provided the winning margin for Bolingbrook in its 22-19 win against Naperville Central in a Class 8A semifinal contest Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium in Naperville.
"I finally saw an opening where I could break loose for a big run, and thankfully I was able to get in for the score," Bailey said.
Bolingbrook (12-1) will play Loyola Academy for the Class 8A championship Saturday in Champaign.
Until the fourth quarter Naperville Central's defense held Bailey in check, but he managed to find more running lanes and collected 123 of his 203 rushing yards during the final period.
"We started to make much better (option) reads and the offensive line started to open things up," said Bailey, who had 33 rush attempts "Our whole offense is geared toward picking up 4 to 5 yards a play, and if big plays present themselves, we take them, but we like to grind it."
Naperville Central defender Gannon Davis agreed that Bolingbrook's punishing run game wore down the Redhawks (9-4).
"I think we got a little tired there in the fourth quarter, and (Bailey's) speed kind of took over," Davis said. "He started to break some bigger runs into the defensive backfield, and from there he just accelerated and got past us. Running down field after him got pretty tiring. He is quite an athlete."
Naperville Central's last chance to come back ended when Bolingbrook defensive back Parrker Westphal knocked a pass away on a fourth-down play with 1:15 remaining.
"We got the ball down inside our 10 and they knew we were going to be passing," said Naperville Central quarterback Ian Lewandowski, who completed 8 of 16 passes for 113 yards with 1 touchdown and one interception. "Their line surge was pretty good and they really came at us and shut down that last drive."
The game was tied at 7 at halftime as both teams had a difficult time moving the ball thanks to the gusty winds and stingy defensive efforts by both sides.
The lead changed hands throughout the early stages of the second half. Bolingbrook went ahead 14-7 when Bailey tossed a 16-yard scoring pass to Chandler Piekarski. The Redhawks responded when Lewandowski found Matt Randolph for a 42-yard scoring pass, but kicker Tyler Gillen missed the extra point and was injured while Bolingbrook was flagged for roughing the kicker. Naperville Central elected to go for 2 points, but Randolph was stopped to leave Bolingbrook's lead at 14-13.
The Redhawks regained the lead when Lewandowski scored his second rushing touchdown -- this one from 13 yards out, but the conversion failed and Naperville Central's lead was 19-14 with 10 minutes left.
That is when Bailey took over.
"I couldn't be more proud of this group," Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said about his team, 4-5 and not in the playoffs a year ago. "We challenged this senior class and asked them how they wanted to be remembered, and they dedicated the entire off-season to togetherness. They only won 10 games (as a class) coming into this season and to come out and win nine their senior year is testament to hard work they put in."
Bolingbrook, which played without star linebacker Antonio Morrison, limited the Redhawks to 74 yards rushing with Lewandowksi and Randolph each rushing for 37 yards.