A new name is added to the list of Wes Spencer Crosstown Classic legends
Aiden Clark has been around enough cross-town football contests in Naperville to understand the importance of the annual Wes Spencer Crosstown Classic and to rattle some of the names of past stars from the annual showdown.
He's looked up to past performers including former Redhawk Jayden Reed, who's now playing for the Green Bay Packers. But after Clark's dazzling winning touchdown run Friday night that lifted Naperville Central to a 21-14 win over rival Naperville North, future Redhawks players will reflect on this game and on Clark's heroics.
After the Huskies had rallied from 14-0 deficit to draw even at 14-all on Cole Arl's second touchdown of the night, Naperville Central (5-1, 3-0) marched 94 yards for the winning score. The drive was aided by a late hit by the Huskies but was finished off on Clark's 30-yard run when he willed his way into the end zone, breaking away from tacklers near the line of scrimmage, and eventually diving into end zone after fighting off a tackler at the goal line.
"That was my longest one and my biggest one," said Clark, who had two touchdowns in a win over Waubonsie Valley, but none as big as Friday's score at North Central College in front of a large crowd. "I got hit and spun off and then used what we call the weapon, a stiff arm. I just kept running and lunged into the end zone. It was a matter of inches. That's probably the biggest touchdown of my life."
The score capped off a night in which Clark carried the ball 26 times for 138 yards. The Redhawks defense, which has been stingy all year long, then sealed the victory with an interception by Nicholas Zbylut with 16.6 seconds left to play. Earlier Kaden Skarr had an interception in the end zone for a Naperville Central team that has a knack of coming away with timely turnovers.
"I've been in District 203 my whole life and playing in a game like this has been my dream," Clark said. "I watched a lot of great players in this game, including Jayden Reed. I just imagine that my effort is just as good as others playing for Naperville Central. Wes Spencer is our trophy, it belongs in our building."
Naperville North (3-3, 1-2) got out of the gates slowly and was plagued all night by penalties -- 13 for 125 yards. But Arl busted off an 81-yard touchdown run to close to within 14-7 at the half and the defense played a solid second half until the night's final drive. Arl finished with 136 yards and 2 touchdowns on 19 carries, while two-way standout Luke Williams had 10 catches for 89 yards and also an interception.
"We didn't start fast and that's what happens" Huskies coach Sean Drendel said. "We settled in and got back in the game, but we had too many personal fouls. You've just got to play better for four whole quarters."
Naperville Central's first two scores came in the first half on 12- and 6-yard touchdown passes from Jack Cook to Christopher Bern. Bern, who had 8 catches on the night, has scored five touchdowns in the last three weeks.
"This is a big win a really big win," said Zbylut, a cornerback who has also played running back and receiver this season. "We have a lot of starters back on defense and all 11 are working together on the field. Our momentum definitely shifted after that touchdown run [by Clark]. We just believed and we went out and proved it."