Naperville Central caught from behind
There was a lot of buildup surrounding the Naperville Central and Maine South Class 8A matchup.
The two storied programs lived up to all the hype.
Big turnovers, clutch scores, star players performing, high-powered offenses -- the game had it all.
Ultimately, though, it was defending state champion Maine South and its defense that stepped up and squeaked by Naperville Central 39-28 to advance to the state semifinals.
"Those guys fought with everything they had in them," Jayden Reed said.
The bugaboo for the Redhawks (9-3) proved to be the stalled offense in the second half.
Running back A.J. Deinhart scored on a 53-yard touchdown on the third play of the half to give Naperville Central a 28-13 lead.
"I think he's the best running back in the state of Illinois," quarterback Payton Thorne said. "You give him the ball, he's a lot like Jayden, you give it to him, you just watch him go, you watch him do his thing. Tonight, he did that and he played a great game.
"He kept us afloat in the second half."
It proved to be the last offensive drive the Redhawks could sustain, as Maine South scored the final 25 points of the game.
The next six possessions for Naperville Central went: interception, fumble, three-and-out, fumble, three-and-out and turnover on downs.
"As an offense, we can't go three-and-out like we did, at least," Thorne said. "That's on the offense. We've got to sustain drives and be able to move the ball down the field and keep our defense on the sideline for them to be able to rest up a little bit."
And Maine South's offense grinded away and wore out the Naperville Central defense.
After Deinhart's touchdown Maine South (11-1) churned out a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that trimmed the deficit to 28-19.
"They took advantage of their opportunites," Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said.
Two possessions later, Maine South produced a 9-play, 55-yard drive that ended in a field goal to make it 28-25.
More importantly for the Hawks, they forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.
"(He) just got twisted up in the pile a little bit and someone's helmet nailed the ball, so that's not on (him)," Thorne said.
The possession led to another field goal for Maine South.
"Obviously, they had the momentum after our turnovers," Thorne said.
And they used that energy to take the lead.
After a Redhawks punt, Fotis Kokosioulis ran the ball on three plays, the last one a 5-yard touchdown run that gave Maine South a 32-28 lead, its first lead of the game.
"We were still eating the clock, keeping the ball in our hands, keeping it out of their hands," Maine South coach David Inserra said.
And Naperville Central couldn't get the wheels turning. The Redhawks mustered just 7 yards and turned the ball over on downs at their own 25. Two plays later, Kokosioulis broke a 35-yard touchdown run that sealed the win.
"I honestly thought everything was going to go in our favor," Reed said. "Unfortunately, it didn't."