After rushing for 100 rushing yards in its first two football games combined, Naperville Central finally got its ground game going in last week's 28-25 DuPage Valley Conference victory over Metea Valley.
It was a sight for sore eyes for the Redhawks (1-2, 1-2).
"We made a concerted effort to run it and run it some more," said Naperville Central coach Mike Stine. "We really struggled the first couple of weeks. It was good to see."
Junior running back A.J. Deinhart, behind a line led by 6-foot-5, 285-pound Western Michigan-bound Trevor Campbell, exploded for 164 rushing yards on 30 carries. His 20-yard touchdown run gave the Redhawks the lead for good in the third quarter.
Naperville Central had its best offensive game of the season, and not just because of the rushing performance. First-year starting quarterback Pat Ryan also thrived in the win over Metea Valley.
The senior threw for 241 yards and a pair of touchdowns despite leading receiver Josh Ruiz missing the game due to injury. Junior receiver Tommy Coyne stepped up to catch 7 passes for 142 yards and a score.
It all combined to help Naperville Central avoid a dreaded 0-3 start to the season.
"It's amazing how a win can make everyone feel better," Stine said. "We needed that one."
Benet (2-1, 1-0 East Suburban Catholic Conference) returned the bulk of its talented set of offensive skill players from last season, but Redwings coach Pat New is still waiting for the unit to explode.
Thanks to another stellar effort by the defense, the Redwings edged Marian Central 14-10 last week in what New described as "another ugly win."
"The defense has really carried us so far," New said. "I really thought the offense would play better. I guess the good news is we could still get a lot better."
New believes part of the reason for the offensive woes is the strength of the defense with opponents St. Laurence, Notre Dame and Marian Central. Not that the schedule gets any easier in the ESCC, but New has good reason to feel confident going forward.
Third-year starting quarterback Jack Sznajder, returning running back Alec McEachern and returning receiver-running back Marty Dosen give the Redwings numerous options for piling up yards. The emergence of receiver C.J. Birck adds to the optimism.
"We know we have a lot of weapons, it's just a matter of it materializing," New said. "I think there's a lot of upside there."
Close only counts ...:
Perhaps it's merely perception, but Metea Valley seems snakebit by narrow losses.
In the Mustangs' formative years there were a few lopsided outcomes. But the program's very first game in 2010 -- a 27-26 loss to Plainfield East on a last-second touchdown pass -- felt like a trendsetter.
Vying for the mythical title of best winless team, Metea Valley (0-3, 0-3) hosts Wheaton North on Friday after last week's 28-25 loss to Naperville Central, on top of a 41-40 loss in overtime to Naperville North.
"There's not a common theme in there. I just think that we have to continue to have some urgency on each side of the ball on each possession," said Mustangs coach Ben Kleinhans.
They can be electric. Tailback Alonzo Taylor-Jones averages 100 yards rushing behind solid linemen such as left tackle Bryce Effner. Senior Myles Walker returned from injury to average 6 yards a carry against Naperville Central. Jake Reed is a sticky cornerback who also scored on a 51-yard screen pass from blossoming sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne.
Kleinhans said the players may be even more resilient than the coaching staff following tough losses. But enough is enough.
"They're working their tails off," he said. "As a coach you want your players to be rewarded for what they do on the scoreboard."
The best 'us':
St. Francis coach Joe Lepsche doesn't demand much from the Spartans. Only everything they've got.
"Our emphasis is on being the best 'us' as we can be," said the first-year coach.
To him that translates to effort, energy and execution. St. Francis (0-3, 0-1 Chicago Catholic League Green) needs all of that this week in a CCL crossover against unbeaten defending Class 8A champion Loyola.
"It's a great opportunity for our kids to go against the top-ranked team in Illinois right now," Lepsche said.
Right now for St. Francis 20 of 22 positions are manned by two-way players, and even quarterback John Brundage will take reps on defense. An injury-battered secondary features junior Vince D'Orazio and sophomores Zach Radel, Joe Lang and Mike Cascella. That secondary averages 135 pounds, Lepsche said.
It is a process, the coach said, and despite falling 21-0 to Marmion last week St. Francis was right in it.
"We've gotten better every single week, and we've got to continue that into this week," Lepsche said.
In Bill Krefft's five-year coaching career, in every game IC Catholic Prep (3-0) has won the coin toss he has elected to kick off and start the game on defense.
That is, until last week against Elmwood Park when Krefft chose to accept the kickoff and start on offense.
"The kids all looked at me wide-eyed, like, 'What are you doing?'" he said.
Krefft knew exactly what he was doing. It took the No. 1 team in Class 3A six plays to go downfield and score on a touchdown run by Jordan Rowell, who through three games has run for 573 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Downers Grove South (1-2, 1-0 West Suburban Gold) reclaimed the coveted Rebel Cannon after last week's 37-24 win over rival Hinsdale South. An influx of talent is starting to shine for the Mustangs.
It begins behind center with quarterback Matt Greenwald, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior who's made an immediate impact in the lineup coming up from the sophomore team.
"He's something special," said Downers South coach Mark Molinari. "Our offense is starting to look like we hoped it would when we put it this system. A big reason is because of our quarterback."
Greenwald is a strong dual-threat quarterback who's completed 67 percent of his passes for 414 yards. He also leads the team with 199 rushing yards and 3 scores.
While Greenwald's skill on the run has been impressive, Molinari is hoping his group of running backs steps up to balance the load. Slot receiver Joe Tonoff's actually been team's other effective runner, mostly on jet sweeps.
Downers South aims to keep its Gold momentum going in Friday's critical game against Willowbrook (2-1, 1-0).
"Any win's a good win at this point," Molinari said, "but last week was as good as we've played on offense since I've been the head coach."
Keep it moving:
In the midst of a marathon football season, Lake Park and Naperville North are gearing up for a Friday night sprint in the DuPage Valley Conference.
After both teams missed the playoffs last year, they changed their offensive systems to a fast-paced, no-huddle spread that never allows opposing defenses a moment's rest.
The philosophy shift has paid off so far. Naperville North is 3-0 for the first time since 2008 while the Lancers are 2-1 following last week's 28-21 nonconference win over DeKalb when they rallied from a 21-0 deficit.
Lake Park will host Naperville North in their Week 4 matchup.
"Lake Park is an excellent football team," said Huskies coach Sean Drendel. "We're going to have to play awfully well to beat them."
The Lancers (1-1 DVC) ran 86 plays in last week's win. It's not unusual for Naperville North (2-0 DVC) to run more than 70. A main reason has been their strong quarterback play.
Naperville North senior Luke Cegles has thrown for 554 yards and 10 touchdowns against only 2 interceptions. Junior counterpart Jackson Behles, in his first varsity season, has thrown for 723 yards and 7 touchdowns with 2 interceptions.
"We've been very pleased with how Jackson's come along in the offense," said Lancers coach Chris Roll. "He's made a huge impact for us."
Both teams also have talent to watch on defense, specifically on the line. Lake Park boasts one of the state's premier players in 6-foot-4, 270-pound lineman Jacub Panasiuk, a Michigan State recruit who had 4 sacks last week, and he's joined by an experienced linemate in 6-3, 255-pound Matt Paulauskas.
Huskies interior defensive linemen Malik Wells and Isaac Velasco have been disruptive all season. They've combined for 7 tackles for loss, with Wells notching a pair of sacks in last week's 33-7 win over Wheaton Warrenville South.
They'll be tasked with slowing down the lightning-quick offenses.
"It's a big game for both of us," Roll said. "It should be a great one."
Follow on Twitter