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You may think Naperville Central's football team is officially back on track after Friday's 36-0 playoff victory over visiting Downers Grove South.
As far as the Redhawks are concerned, though, they never left the track.
Regardless, No. 7 Naperville Central (7-3) distanced itself even further from a late-season three-game losing streak by opening the Class 8A playoffs with a dominating win over the 10th-seeded Mustangs (6-4). The Redhawks will hit the road next week to face No. 2 Homewood-Flossmoor (9-1), a 49-14 winner over Sandburg.
"I don't know if we were ever totally off track," said Naperville Central coach Mike Stine. "We were playing some pretty good football teams. It's not an excuse, but we were banged up during that stint. We're getting some guys healthy now."
Naperville Central, sparked by a Dillon Grooss blocked punt, scored on its first possession when Connor Assalley booted a 26-yard field goal. Kevin Clifford, who tallied a pair of touchdowns, lifted the lead to 10-0 with a 15-yard scoring run.
Ben Andreas, who caught 6 passes for 112 yards, snared 2 touchdown catches from Illinois State-bound quarterback Jake Kolbe. Andreas also ran for a 53-yard touchdown.
"We came out a little sloppy in the first half, but in the second half we came out clicking," Andreas said. "We just really started playing well."
Naperville Central's defense, which received a key third-quarter interception from Dan Dolehide that led to a touchdown, held Downers South's offense to 151 total yards. Early field position played a big part in navigating the slick turf conditions, and the Redhawks took full advantage.
Even though the margin remained 10-0 at halftime, the Mustangs' inability to cross midfield until late in the third quarter created a long night for the visitors.
"We couldn't get out," said Mustangs coach Mark Molinari. "We couldn't run the ball. It's disappointing, especially for our seniors. But I thought defensively for the first half we played pretty well."
It was tough sledding most of the night for both offenses, although Andreas and Clifford, who rushed for 88 yards on 13 carries, kept the chains moving. Kolbe threw for 145 yards, while Downers South counterpart Jordan Skach threw for 67. Mustangs receiver Javon Turner had 4 catches for 21 yards and ran for 52 yards.
"We gave them everything they could handle, but they just kept pounding it at us," Molinari said. "We couldn't move the ball, and eventually they started to break some of those runs. It was tough."
Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit