By Stephen Spiewak
NAPERVILLE, Ill. – It wasn’t a tale of two halves. More like a tale of two plays.
A fourth quarter touchdown run by Matt Manade propelled Naperville North to a hard-fought, 7-6 victory over Wheaton-Warrenville South – ranked No. 20 nationally this week by MaxPreps – on a rain-soaked field Friday night.
The win clinched the DuPage Valley Conference title for the Huskies and avenged the their last loss, a triple overtime defeat at the hands of the Tigers last season. Naperville North has now won 15 games in a row.
“At the end of the game, we knew what he had to do,” senior running back Nick Mlady said. “Before the coach told us was to do, we were already telling guys.”
Mlady was the workhorse in the Huskies’ game-winning, 99-yard drive capped by Manade’s 26-yard touchdown run.
Manade’s score overcame the game’s other big play, a 68-yard touchdown run by Wheaton-Warrenville South quarterback Joe Furco. Naperville North linebacker Nick Liftka blocked the Tigers’ point-after attempt – a play that loomed large down the stretch.
For Naperville North, it was a matter of patience. Early on, the horrendous field conditions crippled its ground attack, which relies on quick lateral movement and change of direction.
“Coming out here, we tried to keep our plan simple, and just be patient,” Naperville North head coach Larry McKeon said. “We’re not a great throwing football team. With a guy like Nick Mlady, you want to put the ball in his hands as many times as possible.”
While Naperville North features several capable offensive threats, McKeon leaned heavily on Mlady late in the game, running quick pitches play after play and giving Mlady an opportunity to wear down the Wheaton-Warrenville South defense before Manade broke his run.
Despite the Huskies’ simplified offense, Wheaton-Warrneville South was still unable to slow the team’s methodical ground attack.
“The big thing was, if you ever face adversity, to overcome it,” Mlady said. “We came through and obviously it went our way.”
The Huskies will likely get a No. 1 seed in the 8A state tournament. The Tigers will also be a favorite in the 7A bracket.
- Just four plays into the game, severe lightning forced a delay of over 40 minutes. The lightning eventually ceased, but rain persisted the entire game. The Wheaton-Warrenville South stands remained completely full, but a good number of Naperville North fans did not return after the delay.
- The Wheaton-Warrenville South sideline chirped about a first quarter pass that appeared to be intercepted by the Tigers inside the red zone, was but ruled incomplete. Later in the game, a controversial pass interference call went the Tigers way.
- According to Naperville North coach Larry McKeon, both touchdowns of the game were scored on the same play, a midline option that each quarterback was able to take up field for a score.
- Naperville North sophomore linebacker Nick Liftka could be a player to watch. Not only did he make what proved to be the game’s biggest defensive play, but he has great size for his position and will attract interest from college recruiters. He checks in at 6-foot-3, 228 pounds.
- Right before play resumed after the rain delay, Wheaton-Warrenville South running back Julian Banuelos was doing agility drills on the sideline, trying to get his footing on the soggy ground. After a few words of advice from a Tiger coach, he ran for a nice seven-yard gain on the first play after the delay.
- After the game, McKeon told his team to thank all of the players in attendance that wore the Naperville North jerseys from past years. Former Husky Alex Dieckmann, who scored four touchdowns in the team’s 8A state title win last season, was one of McKeon’s former players to congratulate him on the field after the game.
- It was the final game played on Naperville’s natural grass field. Next week, plans will go forward to replace the grass with field turf.