Naperville North wanted to win its regular-season football finale, but it accomplished so much more Friday night.
Looking to earn an eighth win and most likely secure a home playoff game in the process, the Huskies rallied with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to knock off Wheaton Warrenville South 28-17 in Naperville. But the win also gives the Huskies a share of the DuPage Valley Conference championship after previously unbeaten Neuqua Valley fell at Glenbard North.
"That wasn't something we were playing for," Naperville North coach Sean Drendel said of the conference title. "We were playing to win Game 8. Our kids played hard and I'm so proud of them. They're a goofy group at times, but they work hard and they do the little things when we need the little things and they make a play when we need a play."
On Friday the Huskies needed to make some late plays after WW South (3-6) had taken a 17-14 lead on quarterback Matt Dohse's 3-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. The home team was up to the task when Huskies quarterback Luke Cegles countered with a 12-yard touchdown run of his own and then sealed the victory with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Matt Montgomery with 2:02 left to play.
"We came in here with the mindset we got to win the game," said Naperville North running back Cross Robinson, who had 144 yards on 15 carries in the game. "When it comes with a kind of 3 in 1 it makes it that much sweeter. Us being seniors, nobody's ready to go home.
"This last home game couldn't be any better."
Naperville North got its eighth win, helped its cause in the playoff seeds, which will be announced Saturday night, and also added a league championship.
"It's very cool. We won conference as sophomores and it was kind of the same thing, co-champs," Robinson said. "But varsity is so much greater. You actually get a plaque and stuff."
The Tigers led 3-0 after one quarter on Jack Olsen's 39-yard field goal and then led 10-7 at the half after a 53-yard pass from Dohse to Cam Moore in the final minute of the second quarter. But the Huskies got two rushing scores from Cegles, the clinching TD pass to Montgomery, and also a pair of Kiser Floyd interceptions.
Despite the setback Tigers coach Ron Muhitch was thrilled with his team's effort and progress the second half of the 2016 season.
"The defense gave us a chance to win tonight and that was fun to see," Muhitch said after his team had 3 interceptions and forced 4 Huskies turnovers. "That's the first time that we've had that so it was nice to see our kids come absolutely together and play a complete game on both sides of the football."
Both Muhitch and Drendel know how hard the DVC can be on your team's record.
"The last five football games they played some pretty good football, "Muhitch said of his team. "I don't think anyone would want to play us now in the playoffs or Metea Valley or Lake Park or Wheaton North … seriously. There are some really solid football teams not going to the playoffs."
Naperville North had its long playoff string snapped the last two years while going 2-7 twice.
"When you play in our league, 2-7's pretty easy to get to," he said. "Eight and one is really difficult to get to, but you can get to 2-7 pretty easy with the teams you've got to play."