Cary-Grove wins shootout to cap perfect regular season
Look out, Class 6A.
Fox Valley Conference champion Cary-Grove, the top-ranked 6A team, sent a message to the rest of the playoff field in its class with a 55-41 takedown of DuPage Valley Conference champion Naperville Central in Cary on Friday.
Naperville Central (6-3), ranked No. 7 in Class 8A, could not stop the triple-option offense of Cary-Grove (9-0), which threw the ball only twice and did not complete a pass.
Leading Cary-Grove receivers Danny Daigle and Quinn Priester, both two-way players, each participated on offense only and were limited while playing through bumps and bruises sustained in a victory over Prairie Ridge a week earlier.
Thus, an option attack that has thrown for over 1,000 yards this season reverted to Cary-Grove classic. The Trojans ran the ball 58 times for 429 yards behind offensive linemen Addison West, Jason Petko, Harry Heinisch, Jack Riley and Evan Hissong.
"It was ground and pound like usual Cary-Grove," said West, a Western Michigan recruit.
Junior fullback Blake Skol rushed 21 times for 222 yards and 4 touchdowns and senior quarterback Ben McDonald ran for 151 yards and 3 touchdown in 28 attempts.
"They run it really, really well," Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said of the triple option. "Some teams run it and it's easier to defend, but they have weapons at three or four of the spots, guys that can hurt you, and their line gets off the ball very well. It's hard to simulate the speed of teams that run that and they do a great job. They're a really good football team."
"There are not a lot of defenses that can go with our offense," McDonald said. "We have such low pad level, we work so hard and we own the line of scrimmage. I think that applies to a lot of teams, not just them."
Naperville Central jumped to a 20-7 first-quarter lead, thanks to the chemistry between quarterback Payton Thorne and wide receiver Cade McDonald. The duo connected for 5 touchdown passes, 3 in the first half, as the Redhawks built an early lead.
"We just figured out the routes that worked against their defense and it just happened to be me open on those routes," said McDonald, who made a career-high 15 catches for 220 yards. "Payton threw a good pass on all of them."
"We know that we've got that connection," said Thorne, who completed 31 of 48 attempts for a career-best 481 yards and 6 touchdowns. "He was able to get open all night tonight and make some great catches. That's a credit to our offensive line, too."
The Trojans rallied with 4 straight touchdowns to take a 33-20 lead early in the third quarter.
A crucial drive occurred late in the second quarter, when Cary-Grove moved 80 yards in 12 plays in a 5:20 span, capped by McDonald's 2-yard plunge with 26.2 seconds left.
"Those drives before halftime are drives that our kids have time and time again been able to make plays and to get it done," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said.
The Redhawks answered with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Thorne to McDonald to pull within 6 points, but the Trojans countered with a 35-yard touchdown run from Skol and McDonald's 2-point conversion run opened a 41-27 lead.
After the Cary-Grove defense held on fourth-and-5 at the Naperville Central 35-yard line, the offense needed 7 plays to extend the advantage to 48-27 with 10:43 left. Skol did the honors with a 2-yard run.
What does a victory over a ranked Class 8A team say about Cary-Grove's Class 6A playoff chances?
"The possibilities are endless," West said. "We want to keep going as far as we can."