When Naperville North scored late in the first half to tie its Class 8A first-round playoff game at Waubonsie Valley, there had to be a little doubt in the minds of the favored Warriors.
But coach Paul Murphy reminded his fifth-seeded Warriors (8-2) to stay focused and to play the way he knew they could, and they responded with a strong second half that led to a 31-20 victory and a berth in the second round of the playoffs.
"He just reminded us that we're a good team and when we execute and we play the way that we've played most of the season that we're a real hard team to beat," said running back Jon Fizer, whose 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter broke a 7-7 tie and put the hosts on top for good. "He got our heads on straight and we came out at half and it was basically 0-0. The game was tied ... they got the ball, our defense had a huge stop and then we got things clicking."
The Warriors defense forced the Huskies (5-5) to punt on their first two possessions of the second half and recovered a fumble on the third, a turnover that led to a 34-yard field goal by Josh Polhill that made the score 17-7 after three quarters.
The Huskies next possession ended when Connor Johannes' pass to DeSean Brown on fourth-and-11 came up 1 foot short. Three plays later Fizer, who finished the game with 222 yards on 22 carries, busted off a 71-yard touchdown run, his third score of the day.
"I thought once we came out at halftime, even though we had squandered some opportunities in the first half, I thought we were a totally different team in the second half," Murphy said. "We came out and played with confidence and we knew that we could play with this team."
Brown and the Huskies still had plenty of fight left in them as the Naperville North senior answered Fizer's long touchdown with a 70-yard race to the end zone on the next play from scrimmage.
An unsuccessful onside kick set the stage for a short Warriors drive that led to Jack Eddy's 1-yard quarterback keeper for a 31-13 lead with 3:05 left to play. The Huskies did counter with a 20-yard TD pass from Johannes to Sharad Crosby and then did get the onside kick, but an interception by Waubonsie Valley's Hugh Griffin ended any miracle comeback plans for the visitors.
"It was back and forth with momentum, and they got the better of us with a couple plays and it was hard for us to come back with so little time," said Brown, had 199 yards of offense and his 16th and 17th touchdowns of the season. "We just caught the short end of the stick. It's rough three years in a row going 5-5, and I'm just going to miss playing high school football."