Huntley's football team feels it hasn't seen a defense all season that can stop its offense.
Then again, all the talk surrounding Class 8A powerhouse Huntley is its offense and the Red Raiders haven't really seen anyone mention their defense all season, either.
That last part about their defense, though, all changed Friday.
Thanks to a big, let alone healthy defensive effort that nearly had a shutout in hand until a tipped pass in the end zone went Crystal Lake Central's way with 24 seconds left, Huntley qualified for a playoff spot in a 49-7 Fox Valley Conference win over the Tigers with a big defensive stamp.
Defensive linemen Justin Allen totaled 2 sacks while Charlie Zornow, Brock Dickte, Nolan Engmann and Joseph Dill each had 1. Travis Otto recovered a fumble and Patrick Roppolo snagged an interception in the third quarter that not only created major havoc for Tigers quarterback Jake Staples, but helped Huntley go 6-1 overall and 5-1 in the FVC.
"At the beginning of the season when we faced teams like Prairie Ridge and Jacobs, we gave up a huge number of points," Allen said. "People were questioning our defense saying that our offense wouldn't be able to carry us all season. And then we get a huge (near) shutout like this, we proved that our defense not only can carry our offense but our defense can keep up with our offense that they can help us win games, too."
Question no more. The timing of a near-shutout late in the season couldn't have come at a better time. It provided a big boost of hope for a team that's now averaging 45.2 points per game but was giving up 24.6 points on average prior.
Central's (4-3, 3-3) offense stalled all night and was moving backward on its very first drive. A 3-and-out forced CLC to punt from its own 11 which set up a 3-play, 36-yard drive for Melvin Aninaguei-Bonsu (6 carries, 58 yards) who capped it off on a 1-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 4:08 left in the first.
Quarterback Eric Mooney (16-for-20, 284 yards passing, 4 TDs, 5 total) provided a 4-yard TD run on Huntley's next drive but a big stand on Central's 4th and goal from the 10 led to an 8-play, 90-yard drive finished off on Mooney's 9-yard strike to Ryan Antonsen (6 catches, 92 yards) for a 21-0 lead midway through the second.
Central's woes on offense continued, as its next offensive play saw Otto pick up Braden Bisram's fumble at the CLC 32 which led to Mooney, who found Brian OMara (4 catches, 130 yards, 2 TD) on a 32-yard scoring pass on the very next play for a 28-0 lead.
"Our defense really came through," Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak said. "We've been working with a different group defensively every week. We haven't had our full defense and being able to have our whole defense out there today and to get a pretty dominant performance, I'm very happy with the way they played. "
Roppolo's pick at the Central 15 midway through the third quarter helped reel off a running clock thanks to Boland's 16-yard TD snag 7 plays later for 42-0 cushion.
On the flip side, Staples finished 11-for-24 for 133 yards and 1 touchdown while running for just 28 yards on 11 carries as Central was outgained in total yards 395-263 with really nothing to show for it.
"All the offense is getting the notice but the defense is getting better every week," Roppolo said. "I think we have one of the best d-lines in the conference so that makes the quarterback maybe make some not-so-good throws. We know when it's playoff time there's going to be some good teams we'll have to go up against this really helped us out."