Naperville Central beats Metea Valley for crucial fifth victory
After that darned pandemic prevented a football postseason in the spring, Naperville Central worked hard to make sure it would return to the postseason in 2021. On Friday the Redhawks wasted little time in making it official.
After the Redhawks defense stuffed the Mustangs opening drive and forced a punt from the 1-yard line, Reggie Fleurima returned the punt 32 yards for a quick 7-0 lead for the hosts. It was the first of three touchdowns by Fleurima as Naperville Central improved to 5-3 on the year and 3-2 in the DuPage Valley Conference by handing a 43-14 setback to the Mustangs (3-5, 2-3), who needed a win Friday to keep alive its playoff hopes.
"It was fun and getting that fifth win was huge," said Fleurima, who caught scoring passes of 15 and 17 yards while recording three touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career. "We worked hard all spring and all summer to make sure we got to the playoffs, which are expected here. The seniors knew what we had to do."
With Fleurima scoring three times, quarterback Owen Prucha completing 15 of 20 passes for 188 yards and 3 touchdowns, and tailback Tyler Dodd going over 100 yards on the ground with 2 scores, the Redhawks defense might get overlooked a tad. But the hosts were just as impressive on that side of the ball.
Brian McInerney was all over the field from the opening kickoff. The defensive lineman had a big stop and then a quarterback pressure on that opening drive when Metea was pinned at its own one. He kept up the strong play all night, adding a sack, a swatted pass at the line and several tackles near the line of scrimmage.
The Redhawks led 28-0 before the Mustangs finally got on the scoreboard with a 39-yard Logan Frederick pass to Jalen Johnson in the second quarter. The lead grew to 43-7 before Earl Hightower closed out the scoring with a 68-yard run in the final minute.
"We worked all week on stopping the run," McInerney said. "We knew if we stopped the run we could pressure the quarterback and get them to maybe panic in the passing game. The DBs were all over their guys all night."
McInerney credits teammate Alex Noto with taking on double-teams and creating opportunities for fellow Redhawks to make plays on defense.
"It really starts in the middle with Alex," he said. "He allows me to go make plays. We played awesome all night as a team."
Mustangs coach John Parpet, who will close out the season with a rare back-to-back battle with Naperville Central, felt his team just got handled at the line of scrimmage.
"We just got beat up front. Offensively, we couldn't protect long enough to make them honest," he said. "We made huge progress this year but we're pretty beat up right now."