Warren downs Hinsdale Central to reach 8A quarterfinals
It's been a long time coming for the Warren football team to make the IHSA state quarterfinals.
"It's been 27 years," Warren linebacker Juan DelaCruz said.
"Ya, 27 years," teammate and fellow linebacker Patrick Sharpe agreed.
Fact check with head coach, Brian McNulty: "No, no, it's been 17 years. The kids are thinking it's 27 years, but no, it's 17. It was 2001 that we last got to the quarterfinals."
Ok, so DelaCruz and Sharpe were off a decade. But the dramatic point is made just the same.
It's been a very long time since the Blue Devils have made a significant run in the playoffs, longer than many players on the team have even been alive.
On Saturday night, Warren did what Warren has done all season, used its tough-as-nails defense to help pull out a monumental and somewhat historical win. A late fumble recovery by the host Blue Devils sealed the deal on a 17-14 Warren victory over Hinsdale Central in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs.
Warren, seeded No. 8, improves to 10-1 on the season while No. 9 Hinsdale Central closes out its season with an 8-3 record.
The Blue Devils will be on the road next week in the quarterfinals to face No. 1 Brother Rice, which defeated Oak Park-River Forest 27-17 on Saturday.
It is only the third quarterfinal appearance in program history for Warren. The first was in 1991.
"This (the quarterfinals) was one of our seasons goals," McNulty said. "One was to win conference, another was to go the quarterfinals, somewhere we haven't been in a long time. This is just huge for our kids. This is a big steppingstone in the program."
The Warren defense recorded 3 sacks, came up with an interception and the fumble recovery that sealed the game.
Both the interception and the fumble recovery, which came on a productive drive by Hinsdale Central in Warren territory with less than five minutes to play, were made by Sharpe.
"They were going down the field and all of a sudden I saw their running back fumble the ball and he went to go pick it up and he bobbled it again. I dove on the ground and I knew that was my ball."
There was only 1:54 left in the game when Sharpe forced the change of possession.
"I was so proud of my boy Patrick, and for our whole defense," DelaCruz said. "We really finished the business today."
Sharpe, who also had an interception in the third quarter that ended Hinsdale Central's first possession of the second half after one play, is playing football for the first time in high school this year. The last time he had played football before now was in junior high.
"He played really well," McNulty said of Sharpe. "It's funny that he hadn't played since junior high but he came out because he said he just liked the culture of the program and what we were doing. One of our kids got hurt against Mundelein and Patrick came in and he's been doing great ever since."
Meanwhile, DelaCruz was making plays not only on defense but on offense, too.
He gave Warren a 14-7 lead going into halftime when he caught an 11-yard pass from quarterback Phil Hird with 45.2 seconds left in the second quarter. DelaCruz is used in special situations on offense as a wide receiver and is actually the team's leading receiver.
He's caught 8 touchdown passes this season.
"I think coach believes in me that I can beat the (defensive backs) and win jump balls (in the end zone). I think that's why they put me in (on offense)," DelaCruz said. "I take a lot of pride in it. Defense is my thing, but I will help the team as much as possible." After a scoreless first quarter, Warren finally got on the scoreboard with 8:24 left in the second quarter when sophomore Malachi McNeal, also a starting linebacker who makes big plays on defense but is used in special situations on offense, powered in for a 5-yard touchdown run. McNeal carried half the Hinsdale Central defense on his back into the end zone.
McNeal's score was set up by a 52-yard run by workhorse running back Martin Walker Jr., who finished with 151 rushing yards on 31 carries.
Hinsdale Central tied the score on the very next possession when quarterback Matthew Rush his Braden Contreras with a 25-yard touchdown pass.
Up 14-7 at the break after DelaCruz's late second-quarter touchdown, Warren added to its lead late in the third quarter on a 29-yard field goal by Adam Saul. That bumped the lead to 17-7.
Sharpe made his interception on Hinsdale Central's very next play, but the Red Devils held and forced Warren into a punt and then they scored on their next possession.
As time expired in the third quarter, Hinsdale Central running back Matthew Bobak broke through the line for a 52-yard touchdown run.
That made the score 17-14 going into the fourth quarter, which wound up being a defensive battle and a scoreless quarter.
"We really thought that this was the year that we were going to go far and win a state championship," said Bobak, who finished with 82 rushing yards on 13 carries. "We worked so hard in the off-season. Everyone stepped up. This is so disappointing for us.
"This Warren defense was the best defense we've played this year. They were the first team that has consistently knocked us back. Props to them. They're going to go far."