There's something magical about playing football at Homewood-Flossmoor ... at least for Naperville Central.
Just like they did in the 2013 postseason, the Redhawks hit the road and beat the Vikings on their home field. This time it took Michael Oliver's interception on third-and-goal in the final minute to help Naperville Central preserve Friday's 31-28 victory in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs.
How did the Redhawks follow up that second-round victory in 2013? Three weeks later they won a state title.
Not that No. 13 Naperville Central (9-2) is looking anywhere near that far ahead, but the Redhawks couldn't deny the symmetry between Friday's game and the 24-21 second-round victory at Homewood-Flossmoor four years ago.
"This game reminded me a lot of 2013 when we were here," said Naperville Central coach Mike Stine. "It was back and forth and went a full 48 minutes. We were able to come out on top back then and we were able to do it today."
Fourth-seeded Homewood-Flossmoor (9-2) slashed a two-score deficit to 31-28 midway through the fourth quarter on a 4-yard scoring run by Northern Illinois-bound Justin Hall, who rushed for 159 yards on 34 carries. The Vikings got the ball back with 5:21 left when they made a fourth-down stop at their own 29-yard line.
The Vikings marched to a first-and-goal at the 9 and called timeout on third-and-goal at the 9. Hall took a direct snap from center, reversed the ball with a toss to sophomore quarterback Dominick Jones, who -- with Redhawks lineman Lavar Archibald right in his face -- lobbed the interception to Oliver with 35 seconds remaining to seal the Redhawks' trip to the quarterfinals.
"We knew this was going to be a one-possession game, and it came down to the final stop," Oliver said. "I missed a pick earlier in the game and I knew that I had to make up for it. I knew that was my ball to get."
Jayden Reed again was a huge factor for the Redhawks. Quarterback Payton Thorne, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 186 yards and 3 scores, threw a pair of touchdown strikes to the Western Michigan-bound senior, and then Reed opened the third quarter by intercepting a pass and returning it 60 yards for a third touchdown.
After Vaughn Hallstrom closed the first half by breaking a 14-14 tie with a 37-yard field goal, Reed's pick six boosted Naperville Central's lead to 24-14 early in the third quarter. Just like when the Redhawks saw two 7-point leads turn into ties in the first half, though, the Vikings kept answering.
Right until that final drive.
The Redhawks advance to play Saturday's winner between Warren and Maine South.
"I have faith in my team," said Reed, who had 7 catches for 138 yards. "I knew we were going to get that stop. I always have faith in my team."
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