Strange week ends with a win on the field for Naperville Central
After a strange week with many twists, Naperville Central relied on a strange ending on Sunday afternoon.
The Redhawks' week started off with their showcase game against Neuqua Valley called off due to positive COVID tests by the Wildcats on Tuesday. A few hours later, the Redhawks were able to slot in Marmion for Saturday's originally-scheduled kickoff before finding out the game would have to be moved to Sunday.
"It was so weird waking up this morning at 7 a.m. to get ready for a football game," Naperville Central junior running back Niko Gordon said. "I was freaked out, and was like, 'what the heck am I doing, this is not normal.' "
The "new normal" this sports season is all about change and adaptation. The Redhawks experienced that firsthand, forcing four second-half turnovers to pull out a 22-17 comeback over Marmion in Naperville.
And now, the Redhawks may be looking for another replacement game as the traditional Battle of Naperville, scheduled for April 3, has been canceled due to Naperville North's entire team being in a 14-day quarantine.
The nonconference game came down to a flurry of second-half turnovers and battling a heavy wind throughout the game. Each team struggled moving the ball against the wind, with the Cadets (0-1) hampered by going against the wind in the fourth quarter.
The Redhawks (2-0) scored the first 10 points, but the Cadets stormed back to erase a 16-3 deficit on the strength of two highlight-reel plays to seize a 17-16 lead late in the third quarter.
The Redhawks' defense and special teams sparked the late comeback, in part due to a long kickoff return, a pivotal fumble recovery that led to Elijah Jordan's game-winning 3-yard touchdown with 5:16 left in the game. Naperville Central senior linebacker Shane Roth sealed the win an interception. The Cadets' hurt themselves with three critical fourth-quarter turnovers. "We have great coaches and they really prepared us for four quarters," Roth said. "Our defensive line played great and our secondary was outstanding. It made it easier for me to read the quarterbacks' eyes.
"We have a lot of great senior leadership on the defense. We knew we had to pick it up in the fourth quarter. We were able to get stops and turnovers."
Jordan steadied the offense by chewing up yards in small chunks, finishing with 16 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown.
"We have never played this team before, so we had to come out and play hard," Jordan said. "This is all unexpected (season), and had to be prepared for whatever. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game because it was very windy."
Gordon extended several drives with big runs en route to a game-high 75 yards rushing on 14 carries. He scored on a 9-yard TD run in the second quarter to pad the lead to 16-3. Wide receiver Reggie Fleurima also hauled in a 27-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter before sitting out most of the second half with an injury.
"We made some mental mistakes but bounced back and that showed what kind of team we are," Gordon said. "We have a very good backfield and able to communicate well and learned off each other. We showed our character by fighting to the final whistle."
The late rally by the Redhawks spoiled a potential memorable win for the Cadets, and took some of the shine of their strong performance on defense and offense. The Cadets' defense locked up Naperville Central's running game, allowing just 107 yards and just 92 yards passing. The Cadets seized their lead following a 40-yard fumble return by Luke Kuhn that set up a 3-yard TD run by sophomore running back Josh Lim.
"I'm very proud of our football team," Marmion coach Don Thorpe said. "We came here expecting to win, and not play for moral victories. We expected to score in the final minutes. The kids never lost hope. The wind was a big factor, but you can't turn the ball over. The Cadets played with great heart. The defense gave us opportunities."
Marmion quarterback Padraig Fitzgerald was 17-of-28 passing for 167 yards and a touchdown with 2 interceptions. Junior wide receiver Dane Pardridge had 8 catches for 88 yards, including a 57-yarder late in the second quarter.
"We've got some (offensive) threats and just have to scheme better to get those kids the ball," Thorpe said.