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updated: 11/17/2013 8:27 AM

Naperville Central rolls into 8A semis

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  • Kevin Clifford of Naperville Central picks up yardage against Neuqua Valley in Class 8A quarterfinal action Saturday.

      Kevin Clifford of Naperville Central picks up yardage against Neuqua Valley in Class 8A quarterfinal action Saturday.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer


Conventional wisdom held that Naperville Central's football team wouldn't be able to put up another 58 points on Neuqua Valley.

The Redhawks settled for 47 on Saturday night.

And they earned their second trip to the Class 8A semifinals in three years.

Despite miserable amounts of wind and rain, Naperville Central put in a blistering performance in all three phases while rolling to a 47-18 victory over the visiting Wildcats in a rematch of their Week 2 meeting, also won by the Redhawks.

Seventh-seeded Naperville Central (9-3) will play No. 8 Marist (9-3), a 21-7 winner over Oswego, in another game hosted by the Redhawks. The showdown for a berth in the 8A final likely will be played next Saturday night.

"We have all the confidence in the world right now," said Redhawks junior running back Kevin Clifford, who rushed for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns on 29 carries. "We knew we had to pound it at them, and we got it done."

While Illinois State-bound Naperville Central quarterback Jake Kolbe threw the ball only six times, Neuqua Valley counterpart Broc Rutter completed 24 of 43 passes for 289 yards.

The Redhawks, however, picked off Rutter five times -- twice by Jon Lubanza -- and recovered two fumbled squib kickoffs intended to keep the ball out of the hands of big-play Wildcats receiver Mikey Dudek. The barrage of mistakes helped bury the third-seeded Wildcats (10-2) into a 27-0 deficit late in the second quarter, a gap narrowed to 27-6 by the half thanks to a 46-yard touchdown pass from Rutter to Alex Teresky.

"They capitalized on our mistakes," said Illinois-bound Dudek, who finished by snaring 9 catches for 117 yards. "There are a lot of things we could have done differently to change the outcome of the game, but unfortunately it just went their way tonight."

Neuqua Valley looked like it might make a move in the second half when a 15-yard delay penalty was called on Naperville Central for not coming out of the locker room quick enough after halftime. The Wildcats recovered the ensuing onside kick and eventually converted it into Nolan Dean's 1-yard scoring run.

The Wildcats held on defense, and on their next possession Rutter found Dudek for a quick pass that Dudek turned into an apparent 77-yard touchdown reception. A holding call, however, nullified the play that could have made it a one-score game.

"We didn't play our best football today," said Wildcats coach Bill Ellinghaus. "There are a lot of things that went into it, but it was not a lack of effort by our kids. (The Redhawks) made plays and we didn't."

After the Wildcats were forced to punt, Clifford scored his third touchdown for Naperville Central and then Dillon Grooss caught the team's fourth interception and returned it for a touchdown. Just like that, the Redhawks held a commanding 41-12 lead early in the fourth quarter.

"The team that turned the ball over less and got the turnovers was going to win the game," Grooss said. "We just made plays out there as defenders and gave the offense great field position."

Naperville Central had only 11 offensive plays in the fourth quarter compared to 27 for the Wildcats. The Redhawks still outscored Neuqua Valley 20-6 in the last 12 minutes.

"It takes all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams," said Redhawks coach Mike Stine, whose team beat the Wildcats 58-35 in Week 2. "All three phases had some big parts tonight."

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit

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