From the second play of the game, Wheaton North's football team began making its case for the playoffs.
Even though the Falcons needed more -- much more -- than Bo Neidballa's halfback pass for a touchdown to keep their playoff hopes alive, the big play set the tone for Friday's 45-27 DuPage Valley Conference victory over the visiting Redhawks.
Wheaton North (4-4, 3-4) can become playoff eligible for the first time since 2013 with a win in next week's regular-season finale at Waubonsie Valley (4-4, 3-4). The Redhawks (3-5, 3-4) will miss the postseason for the first time since 2012.
"We were in the same position last year against these guys and we lost our playoff chances," Neidballa said. "We didn't want that to happen again. We wanted to give Week 9 a meaning. After tonight all our focus is on Waubonsie."
Trailing 13-10 at halftime, the Falcons scored three straight third-quarter touchdowns and scored again early in the fourth quarter to build a 38-13 advantage. A pair of third-quarter takeaways, including sophomore Drake Dickinson's 75-yard interception return for a touchdown, helped swing the momentum.
The Redhawks turned over the ball three times on Friday, giving them 12 turnovers during their three-game losing streak.
"We've been bitten by the turnover bug a little bit, but give Wheaton North credit," said Naperville Central coach Mike Stine. "We've just got to continue to play hard and make these next seven days enjoyable for the seniors."
Neidballa's 64-yard touchdown pass to Jack Bennett and Trenton Hegranes' 27-yard field goal gave the Falcons a 10-0 first-quarter lead, but Pat Ryan's 1-yard scoring run and his 8-yard touchdown pass to Josh Boomgarden put the Redhawks ahead 13-10 at the half.
Sam Singleton, who rushed for 68 yards, scored twice in the third quarter for Wheaton North. The first was set up by an interception and long return by Hegranes. Sophomore Antowon Tolbert rushed for 86 of his 117 yards on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
A.J. Deinhart rushed for 111 yards on 26 carries for the Redhawks while Ryan threw for 160 yards.
"Our mantra all week long was we wanted to make Week 9 important and give ourselves a chance to do something," said Falcons coach Joe Wardynski. "We've gotten back to even at 4-4 and I think we'll be ready to roll."
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