Special plays help Hinsdale Central stop Stevenson
It came down to making plays and, in some cases, the team that made the fewest mistakes in the Class 8A opening-round playoff game between host Hinsdale Central and Stevenson.
The offenses had their say in the final outcome. The defenses did too. But in the end the biggest plays of the game came on special teams, and the Red Devils made more of them than the Patriots.
Hinsdale Central capitalized on a blocked punt, bad punt snap that ended up out of the end zone for a safety and a fumbled snap that led to a Red Devils touchdown. The special-teams miscues proved to be too much for the Patriots to overcome in a 33-21 loss that ended their season Saturday.
"At the end of the day (Hinsdale Central) made more plays than we did today," Stevenson coach Josh Hjorth said. "I am proud of our kids. They never quit."
Hinsdale Central junior Luke Skokna and senior Garrett Oakey were a two-headed rushing monster that Stevenson struggled to slow down.
Skokna was the workhorse for the Red Devils (8-2), carrying the ball 23 times for a game-best 152 yards. Oakey rushed for 97 yards.
"Luke is a special player," Hinsdale Central coach Dan Hartman said. "He got dinged up early and again late, but he battled through it and played a (heck of a) game."
The troubles on special team started in the first quarter for Stevenson (6-4). On the Patriots' first possession of the game, the snap sailed over the head of punter Jack Baruch for a safety, giving the home team a 5-0 lead.
In the third quarter, Lonnell Smith Jr. got his hand up and blocked a punt that bounced right into the hands of Aidan Cruickshank, who promptly took it in from 37 yards out to make it 26-0.
"We saw some things and the guys thought they could get their hands in there on the punts," Hartman said. "Those were big plays that changed the game."
Stevenson also got into the punt-block game, as 6-foot-3 senior Liam O'Connell got his hands on a Hinsdale Central punt, setting up the Patriots deep in Red Devil territory.
The Patriots offense finally got going after that. Junior Cole Okmin found his favorite target Alex Capstick for a 50-yard scoring play to pull the visitors within 26-7. Shortly after, sophomore Jean-Marc Etienne rumbled in from 2 yards out, and all of the sudden Stevenson was within 26-14.
"(Alex) is an unbelievable player and we just tried to move him around and get the ball to him," said Okmin, who accounted for a 1-yard scoring run late in the fourth quarter. "We just showed how much heart we had as a team there in the end. No one quit. Everyone gave everything they had."
Hinsdale Central sealed the win with the second of two rushing touchdowns from Skokna. His 32-yard run with 4:54 left provided the Red Devils with all the points they would need.
"I was pretty satisfied with how our team played today -- offense, defense and can't forget about special teams," Skokna said. "I loved running behind the group upfront. Once I crossed the finish line there at the end I knew we had this one sewed up."