Even the best offense needs occasional help from its friends on the "dark side."
Naperville Central's Tommy Carlsen returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown and Braden Lindmark thwarted another Neuqua Valley drive with an interception at his own 30-yard line early in the fourth quarter as the Redhawks beat the Wildcats 24-14 Friday in Naperville.
"We game-planned the whole week (to slow down Neuqua Valley quarterback Jake Eskoff)," Carlsen said. "We talked about taking (Eskoff) out of the game and making them one-dimensional. It was really about trusting our keys. The entire defensive backfield played well tonight."
Carlsen's interception extended Naperville Central's lead to 24-7 with five minutes gone in the fourth quarter and made Eskoff's 10-yard touchdown heave to Zach Wenz with a little more than two minutes remaining a moot point.
"I came over from offense after last year," Carlsen said. "I like the 'dark side' (defense). It suits me."
Naperville Central (2-0, 2-0 DuPage Valley Conference) need its defense to come up big in the second half after its offense bogged down and produced just 1 first down and a 28-yard field goal by Vaughn Hallstrom after the break.
"Our defense played extremely well tonight," Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus said. "You're trying to contain a high-powered offense over there and we did very, very well. We gave up one big play right before half and another early in the third quarter. Our kids battled."
Naperville Central quarterback Payton Thorne flashed his big arm in the first half, completing 10 of 13 passes for 195 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown bomb to Tommy Coyne 16 seconds before halftime.
Thorne also found slick sidekick Jayden Reed eight times for 85 yards and scrambled 9 yards for a touchdown to put Naperville Central on top 7-0 eight seconds into the second quarter.
"Jayden did a great job on that bubble pass getting to the perimeter and making plays," Thorne said. "He got banged up a little bit early but battled through it and played well. Our offensive line played fantastic and gave me plenty of time to throw the ball."
However, Neuqua Valley (1-1, 1-1) started stunting its linebackers in the second half and limited Thorne to 4-of-8 passing for 69 yards. Meanwhile, Neuqua Valley running back Cameron Raupach carved up the Naperville Central defense to the tune of 136 yards on 31 carries.
"Our offensive line was getting a great push," Raupach said. "They deserve a lot of the credit. Actually most of it. I was going to the holes they opened up for me. They were just being some horses tonight."
Raupach rushed eight times for 40 yards and scored from 3 yards out on Neuqua Valley's first possession of the second half to get the Wildcats within 17-7 with 4:31 remaining in the third quarter.
"We just need to execute better," Raupach said. "Fewer mistakes and we come out on top."
Eskoff finished with 157 yards on 15-of-23 passing with the 2 interceptions.
"Central's got a great team," Ellinghaus said. "But we'll be there at the end. We'll be OK."