All year long Naperville North liked its chances in close games as long as quarterback Drake Davis and his offense got their hands on the football.
In Saturday's Class 8A playoff opener at Oswego, the Huskies marched down the field for a touchdown on their first possession, clung to a 7-6 lead at the half, and used a quick strike scoring pass from Davis to Brad Zdrubecky in the second half to stay in the contest against the ninth-seeded Panthers (9-1).
But all year long the No. 24-seeded Huskies also have struggled against strong running teams, and in the end they were done in by a tremendous ground game by Oswego. The Panthers advanced to the second round with a 28-14 victory.
Junior tailback Charles Coleman proved way too big and way too strong, rushing for 336 yards and three scores on 29 carries. As a team the Panthers rushed for 364 yards, and that total includes a 21-yard loss after a bad snap stalled a drive deep into Huskie territory.
"I mean (he's) just a big, physical guy," Naperville North coach Sean Drendel said of the 6-foot-2, bruising runner who ended the Huskies' season at 6-4. "The teams that we struggle with are power running teams. We really haven't had an answer all year for power running teams."
On several occasions the Huskies defense seemed to have Coleman stuffed at the line or contained on the outside, only to see him break free for large chunks of real estate.
"We had some contact on him early and he broke some arm tackles and stuff. Credit to them they're good and physical up front. They're a nice football team," Drendel said.
The Huskies marched 66 yards on the night's first drive and capped it off with a 1-yard touchdown run Zdrubecky, who finished with 106 yards rushing on 14 carries and added two catches for 46 yards including a 45-yard score early in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers answered with a 2-yard score from Coleman on their first possession but trailed 7-6 at the half after a missed extra-point kick and some missed opportunities in the second quarter.
But Coleman proved too tough for the Huskies, and not only did he add TD runs of 1 and 9 yards in the second half, but his 58-yard run following a Huskies fumble set the stage for a 6-yard touchdown run by Markus Tillman for a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter. With a chance to maybe draw even at 14, that turnover and the Panthers' quick strike changed the game around.
"They're a good team. We just needed to capitalize on some more of our drives," Zdrubecky said. "We drove down the field. We just didn't finish."
Davis helped the team put up big offensive numbers much of the year, but the Huskies couldn't keep pace with Coleman and the Panthers' attack.
"We were moving the ball. We basically stopped ourselves. It was tough," said Davis, who completed 23 of 39 passes for 233 yards. "Week 1 at Edwardsville was a great memory and we had a lot of last-second wins. We left our mark on the DVC this year."
Oswego coach Brian Cooney, whose team will face Glenbard West in the second round next Saturday afternoon, was thrilled with both his back and his blockers.
"(We had) the right kid with the right guys blocking in front of him," he said. "None of those gaps are open if those five guys aren't putting hats on hats and playing Panther football."