Deinhart carries the load for Naperville Central
Seems kind of appropriate that Naperville Central wore its white jerseys Friday night at Lake Park.
It made senior running back A.J. Deinhart look a lot like a cue ball on a billiard table. The sturdy 5-foot-9 back finished with 223 yards rushing on 28 carries to lead the Redhawks to the outright DuPage Valley Conference championship with a 35-21 victory. They finished the regular season 7-2 overall and 7-1 in the DVC.
How dominant was Deinhart?
He scrambled for 130 yards on his first 7 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns -- a 16-yard scamper up the middle on Naperville Central's first drive, and then a 41-yarder on its second. On that play, a jet sweep left, Deinhart hustled toward the Redhawks' sideline, cut back inside and then dashed into the end zone untouched.
But Deinhart was quick to give credit to where credit was due.
"If you're going to write an article on this, write about the (offensive) line," he said, referring to the unit of seniors Joe Kennedy, Luke Stempora, Jack Roberts and Omarr Roberts, along with junior Luke Hallstrom.
"Those guys … just amazing," he said. "I'm so proud of them. It was easy."
That performance left his coach, Mike Stine, beaming.
"He's been getting better and better every week," Stine said. "He had a little bit of a nagging injury early in the year, and he really fought through it for about four of five weeks, and it's really been the last two or three weeks where A.J. has been A.J."
Lake Park (5-4, 5-3) looked early to give the Redhawks everything they could handle. After Deinhart scored his first touchdown, the Lancers responded with a 5-play, 57-yard drive that resulted in a 5-yard scoring run by senior running back Jake Carvalho.
Deinhart countered on Naperville Central's ensuing drive with his 41-yard run, and with 6:05 left in the half, senior quarterback Payton Thorne threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jayden Reed.
But Lake Park got one score back on a 6-yard scoring pass from senior quarterback Jackson Behles to senior receiver Keonta Nixon. Suddenly, the Lancers were within 21-14.
The Lancers got the ball back with 2:17 left in the half on its own 12 and moved to the 27 before Reed stepped in front of a Behles pass with 52 seconds left. Three plays later, Thorne was in the end zone on a 1-yard run.
The Redhawks never looked back in the second half. And as a result, it denied the Lancers a shot at share of the DVC title, though they will make their first playoff appearance since 2009.
"It's pretty easy to figure out why the scoring turned out the way it did," Lake Park coach Chris Roll said. "We just made too many mistakes. But with the last game of the year and everything on the line, we weren't going to hold back."
Behles was no slouch Friday, going 18-for-27 passing for 248 yards and the touchdown to Nixon. But he also had a pair of interceptions. On the ground, junior running back David Kirkpatrick-Hardwick chipped in a quiet 129 yards on 27 carries and a second-half touchdown.
Now both Stine and Roll and their charges will wait for the IHSA state playoff pairings to be announced Saturday night. Roll and his players and their families will gather at school, and Naperville Central's players will get together as well.
"That's exciting," Kirkpatrick-Hardwick said of the Lake Park's playoff berth. "It's been awhile, but our team needs to come together and complete our passes and be more efficient."