Undefeated West Aurora relied on big plays and its big, bad defense to stun homecoming host Huntley 27-21 in nonconference action Friday.
The Red Raiders were able to move the ball between the twenties as they gained 360 total yards, but four times in the second half they were stopped on downs in West Aurora territory by a defense that hounded quarterback Eric Mooney throughout and collected 7 sacks.
"Our defense played probably our best game of the season," said West Aurora senior linebacker Taylor Zimmerman, whose 3 sacks added to his season total of 9. "It's exciting. It's just a good feeling to keep this roll going."
A two-play stretch of the fourth quarter changed the game's complexion.
With the scored tied 21-21 in a steady drizzle, Huntley (3-3) went for it on fourth-and-2 at the West Aurora 24-yard line. However, quarterback Eric Mooney's keeper went nowhere as linebacker DaQuan Cross shot across the line to make an ankle tackle for a 2-yard loss.
DaVion Cross, DaQuan's twin brother, burst through the middle of the Huntley defense on the next play and sprinted untouched for a 74-yard touchdown. The Blackhawks settled for a 27-21 lead with 8:18 to play when the extra point missed.
"A bad read cost us," Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak said of the play. "Obviously, we need to sustain drives. We can't just drive the ball and drive the ball and just give it up like that. And our defense has to make stops consistently, not just on 3 out of 4 plays but the entire game."
Huntley had two more possessions but neither resulted in points. The Red Raiders picked up 3 first downs on their ensuing possession, but a Zimmerman sack on third down led to another failed drive when a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
The Red Raiders had one last chance when they took possession at their own 11-yard line with 1:46 remaining. Mooney connected on 5 of 6 passes at one point to drive his team 54 yards to the Blackhawks' 32-yard line, but a third-down sack by 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior Travon Avery set up fourth-and-long.
Once Mooney's last-ditch pass intended for Alec Coss with 21 seconds left was broken up by junior Malik Strickland, the Blackhawks began to celebrate.
"It's a big win," West Aurora linebacker Chandler Behrens said. "We knew it would be great competition on their homecoming. We had to come here and match their intensity and I think we did that.".
Big plays dominated the first half. The Blackhawks scored first on DaQuan Cross' 85-yard touchdown run up the right sideline.
Huntley answered when a low West Aurora punt was blocked by Lere Oladipo and Mooney capitalized on the next play with a 5-yard run.
The Blackhawks took a 14-7 lead on DaQuan Cross' 74-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Jake Jankovsky, but Mooney answered on his next snap with an 85-yard scoring run of his own.
Turnovers were even at 2-2, but a Huntley fumble at its own 10 late in the first half hurt. Senior fullback Nick Catalano scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to give West Aurora a 21-14 lead with 1:27 left in the second quarter. The Blackhawks finished with 468 total yards, 307 rushing.
Huntley tied the game early in the third quarter on a 19-yard slant pass from Mooney to Brian O'Maira, but, West Aurora's defense held the rest of the way.
"This felt like (Class) 8A playoff football," said West Aurora coach Nate Eimer, whose team secured its second straight playoff berth. "Our defense was unbelievable. We needed this game and the kids answered the bell. We came on the road and beat a good football team. That's exciting."