Jopes pick-6 in final seconds keeps Naperville Central in win column
The Naperville Central coaches already were planning for overtime Saturday. Redhawks defensive back Jack Jopes had other plans.
Jopes returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the DuPage Valley Conference football game, breaking a tie and giving host Naperville Central a 21-14 victory against Neuqua Valley.
"We've been stressing all week getting turnovers. We didn't get one that whole game. (Defensive) line was putting real good pressure on the quarterback, got him scrambling, and from there it was just making a play," Jopes said. "D-line made it real easy for me."
The result gave Naperville Central an important leg up in the DuPage Valley Conference standings, as well as a fifth straight victory that made the Redhawks eligible for the playoffs.
"This is fantastic," Jopes said. "For us this clinches a share of the conference championship, but we're not settled. We've got to go out next week and get a win, clinch it all by ourselves."
The Redhawks (5-2, 3-0) host Waubonsie Valley (5-2, 1-1) on short rest next Friday.
The game started Friday night but was suspended due to lightning with 3:12 left in the third quarter. It was just part of a strange season for the Redhawks.
"This whole season, this is the second game we've had to come back to, we had the Kentucky trip we went to, playing Naperville North twice in three weeks. It's like this whole season has a weird feel to it," Redhawks coach Mike Stine said.
The fourth quarter saw some controversy just past the four-minute mark with Neuqua Valley on offense. The side judge ruled a lateral at the Wildcats' 37-yard line and a fumble, but other members of the refereeing crew saw an incomplete pass and blew the play dead. Jopes was involved in that play also, pouncing on the loose ball and taking it to the end zone, only to be called back.
Instead of a touchdown or an incomplete pass, the down was replayed.
"You just had to play, and our defense had to stay out there and play," said Stine, adding the referees admitted to an inadvertent whistle. "You know what? Jopesy made a play. A senior stepped up and made a play. And I'm very happy for Jack because no one's worked harder the last two years than he has. He's a gamer."
The Wildcats (4-3, 1-1) continued to drive, reaching the Naperville Central 31-yard line, where they faced third-and-4.
Stine said the coaching staff was already working on play calls for overtime and hoping to get the extra period when Jopes made it all for naught.
"At that point we were hoping it was going to go overtime, but obviously Jack changed all that," Stine said.
"We were just trying to get the ball back. After a long, hard drive, we had some calls go against us, we were just trying to stay positive," Jopes added.