Plainfield Central erases West Aurora's halftime lead
West Aurora didn't have the ball for very long in the first half Thursday night in a Southwest Prairie Conference crossover against Plainfield Central, but the Blackhawks made the most of their opportunities in taking a 10-6 lead into halftime.
The tables turned in the second half, though, as Plainfield Central outscored West Aurora, 22-6, after halftime to claim a 28-16 victory.
The key play in the second half for the Wildcats was turned in by senior wide receiver James Kulekowskis.
Plainfield Central (1-2) held a slim 14-13 advantage late in the third quarter and faced fourth-and-4 from the West Aurora 29. The Wildcats elected to go for it, and quarterback Chase Vayda launched a pass deep down the middle. Kulekowskis and West Aurora defender Dariyon Douglas both leaped into the air, and Kulekowskis came down with it at the 1-yard line. On the next play, Central's D.J. Pearson bulled in for a touchdown, and Phillip Carlton ran in the two-point conversion to give the Wildcats a 22-13 lead with just 0:09 left in the third.
"Chase threw a real nice ball," Kulekowskis said. "I saw it in the air and kept my eyes on it. It was kind of tipped up, and I came down with it.
"Even though we were down at halftime, we came out of the locker room ready to go in the second half. We knew we were going to be able to finish this game strong."
The defense played a big role in the win, three times forcing West Aurora to kick short field goals rather than scoring touchdowns. West quarterback Gino Martino threw for 260 yards on 13-of-32 passing, but the Blackhawks (1-2) only found the end zone once.
"The defense was huge with their backs against the goal line," Plainfield Central coach Rob Keane said. "Three times we made them kick field goals and that was the difference. If they score touchdowns on those drives, the score is a lot different."
On West Aurora's first play from scrimmage, Martino connected with Andrew Kolich for a 34-yard gain to the Central 11. The Wildcats' defense tightened up and forced West Aurora to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Casey Roney.
Plainfield Central dominated time of possession for most of the rest of the first half, and it finally capitalized with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Vayda to Colby Willams to take a 6-3 lead with 1:14 left until halftime.
West Aurora's Terrence Smith appeared to run the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown, but a holding call at midfield brought it back, and the Blackhawks were 60 yards away. They drove down the field, and Martino connected with Kolich from 12 yards out with :01 to play in the half. Roney's kick made it 10-6 at halftime.
The Blackhawks then received the opening kickoff of the second half and drove to the Wildcats' 11 before Roney booted a 28-yard field goal for a 13-6 lead.
Plainfield Central answered in a big way.
Quentin Howard returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, and the 2-point conversion run by Carlton gave the Wildcats a 14-13 lead.
West Aurora drove to the Wildcat 25, but Central stopped the Blackhawks on downs with just over 3:00 left in the third quarter, setting the stage for the scoring drive that was highlighted by Kulekowskis' catch.
The Blackhawks got to the Wildcat 2 midway through the fourth quarter on a 74-yard reception by Terrence Smith. Plainfield Central's defense kept them out of the end zone, though, and Roney's third field goal got West Aurora back within a touchdown at 22-16.
Plainfield Central's Roman Frankiewicz fell on the ensuing onside kick, and Vayda ran twice for gains of 9 and 38 yards to reach the West Aurora 4. Abram Zimmerman put the game out of reach by scoring from 4 yards out with 3:13 remaining. Vayda finished with 181 yards through the air and 92 on the ground, while Zimmerman had 71 rushing yards.
"These are tough, hard-nosed kids, and I couldn't be prouder of them," Keane said. "We told them at halftime that it takes 48 minutes of tough, consistent play to win a game, and we got that tonight. We had a big kick return by Quentin Howard, and James Kulekowskis made a great catch to put us in a position to score.
"This was big for our kids. In Week 1, we were up at halftime and didn't get the win. For us to be down at halftime and come back for the win is big."