The flagship schools of Naperville and Wheaton have been playing football since 1910, and with Naperville Central's vaunted passing game sputtering Friday, the Redhawks turned to some old school football to defeat Wheaton Warrenville South 31-17 in Naperville.
A.J. Deinhart rushed for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns on 23 carries, quarterback Payton Thorne added 118 yards on 9 carries, and Danny Hughes had a 6-yard touchdown run and Jayden Reed scored from 12 yards out for Naperville Central (5-0, 5-0 DuPage Valley Conference).
"Teams are going to take something away," Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said. "We feel like we have some weapons offensively. If you take away the perimeter, we have to be able to run the ball. If you're going to pack the paint, we have to be able to throw the ball.
"We really try to get into the game and dissect what the defense is going to do then our players have to go out and make plays," he added. "I thought our five guys up front blocked really well tonight."
WW South (0-5, 0-5) drew first blood, marching 75 yards on 13 plays on the game's opening possession and scoring on a 2-yard run by Ryan Young with 5:28 gone in the first quarter. Naperville Central answered with Reed's 12-yard run set up by Thorne's 62-yard sprint down the far sidelines.
Thorne was finally dragged down at the 12-yard line to set up his longtime teammate's only score of the night.
"I have to get back to some speed work," said Thorne, who completed just 5 of 12 passes for 61 yards with an interception.
"I overthrew guys who were open and underthrew another guy who was open, but our running backs were amazing tonight and the offensive line was awesome," he added. "It was great to see that part of our game come together and let A.J. be A.J."
WW South took a 10-7 lead on Jack Olsen's 43-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the first quarter, but Naperville Central countered on Hughes' 6-yard run 2:07 before the half. The Redhawks then scored 17 unanswered second-half points, including a 35-yard field goal by Vaughn Hallstrom, to build a 31-10 lead.
The Tigers closed the scoring on a 19-yard pass to Nick Arthurs from Zach Harris with nine seconds remaining.
"They played hard," WW South coach Ron Muhitch said of his team. "They played really, really well for the first half. I was pleased with our effort tonight. The kids showed up. We got beat by a better team. Credit to them. They have a nice offense and a really tough defense.
"I thought our run game would be a little better but we really struggled with that," he added. "Sometimes you have to credit the defense you're playing."
Despite the second-half dominance, Stine still sees plenty of room for improvement, particularly after his team surrendered the late touchdown.
"We have big goals, and if we want to play Thanksgiving weekend we have to get better at some of those phases," he said. "This team has that goal, but we have to work a little bit harder if that's what we want to have happen."