CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake Central could not finish its first drive of the second half with a touchdown, but it was hardly unproductive.
Tigers running back Griffin Buehler was fighting for yardage when he lost a fumble on Burlington Central’s 4-yard line. But the Tigers had found their place to do business in the second half.
In that drive, quarterback Jason Penza found wide receiver Tommy Hammond for gains of 38 and 23 yards right down the middle. It was a recurring theme that helped the Tigers take a 25-10 victory over the Rockets on Saturday in their Fox Valley Conference game at Owen Metcalf Field.
“We call it Bender,” Penza said. “They played cover-2 against us, two high safeties were deep and the middle of the field was wide open. The linebackers had to come up and play the run. So we gave them run-action and go over the top.
“It did a lot for us. It opened up a whole lot of stuff. Either their linebackers were going to have to soften up and play more zone, or they had to play the run.”
Penza finished 16-of-27 passing for 290 yards, 180 of which came in the second half. The Tigers (2-2, 2-2 FVC) led 13-10 after they were unsuccessful scoring on the first third-quarter drive.
But the Tigers’ defense was solid, and they kept attacking the middle for big chunks of yardage, adding two more touchdowns to win in front of a crowd celebrating Crystal Lake Central’s 100th year of existence at homecoming.
Tigers coach Dirk Stanger thought the attention teams are paying to wide receiver George Dimopoulos, a Northern Illinois commit, opens options like they saw Saturday.
“There’s a lot of green grass in the middle of the field, and we do enough 7-on-7 in the summer that guys know how to adjust routes,” Stanger said. “We did very well with that.
“It’s good, especially with the way some teams are playing George, trying to play two guys to his side. It gives us an opportunity to get the ball down the field a little bit.”
The Rockets held a 10-7 lead until late in the first half, when the Tigers took over at the 50, but were backed up to their 42 by a holding penalty. Penza hit Casen Noennig for a 39-yard gain and Buehler (18 carries, 107 yards) scored on a 19-yard run on the next play.
“Too many penalties [on offense] and were not efficient [enough],” Stanger said. “We didn’t capitalize on some opportunities. Our defense played their butts off. That’s going to be huge if you want to be a playoff team that advances. You have to play defense. We have to shore some things up on offense.”
The Tigers’ defense held the Rockets to 240 total yards and allowed a season low in points.
“I’m really proud of our defense today,” Tigers linebacker Cayden Parks said. “We had a little bit of a struggle at the beginning, but we didn’t get too down on ourselves. We didn’t get mad at each other, we just stuck with it and did what we were supposed to be doing.
“We came back and had some big stops, in the second half especially. I’m really proud of the way we played.”
The Rockets (2-2, 2-2) reached the Tigers’ 49 for one play before their final drive. Burlington Central moved to the Tigers’ 4 on that last drive, even after quarterback Ryder Bergemann suffered an ankle injury and had to leave the game.
Bergemann stepped in against Crystal Lake South when starter Jackson Alcorn was hurt, and the Rockets won 35-21. Wide receiver Michael Person finished at quarterback, but Parks knocked down a fourth-and-goal pass with 1:42 remaining to seal the outcome.
“We came out well in the first half, and we let a couple things kind of hang over us,” Rockets coach Brian Iossi said. “We gave up a couple big plays and had some big penalties. We got down on ourselves a little bit. I told them we let adversity win a little bit today. We still battled, but we let big plays and penalties get to us a little bit too much today.
“Some guys went down and we had other guys step in and did a nice job. Move on to the next play. Give up a big play, move on to the next one. e can’t let it hang over our head.”
The Rockets also lost running back Joey Kowall, who was fourth in area rushing with 325 yards, to an injury. Iossi said Kowall was a precautionary situation to make sure he can play the rest of the season. He also said Bergemann, who was walking on the sideline after the injury, should be fine.
Crystal Lake Central started the season 0-2 with close losses to Huntley and Cary-Grove. The Tigers will try to make it three wins in a row Friday at Crystal Lake South.
“It felt good to win today with the 100-year celebration,” Penza said. “It was a lot of fun, and we wanted to represent the school well. It feels great to get to 2-2 and be in the upper echelon now.”
Parks wants to keep moving forward.
“It was a rough start, but we have a couple wins in a row to get some momentum going,” he said. “You get excited, but you don’t want to be too confident. We have to stay humble. We have to get ready for the next game and keep this momentum rolling.”
Hammond finished with five catches for 110 yards, while Noennig had three for 71 and a touchdown. Drake Tomasiewicz caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Penza in the first quarter.
Crystal Lake Central 25, Burlington Central 10
Burlington Central 3 7 0 0 – 10
CL Central 7 6 6 6 – 25
BC–FG McCoy 31, 3:29.
CLC–Tomasiewicz 29 pass from Penza (Freese kick), 0:40.
BC–Jenkins 5 run (McCoy kick), 4:16.
CLC–Buehler 19 run (kick blocked), 0:47.
CLC–Noennig 22 pass from Penza (run failed), 0:00.
CLC–Penza 7 run (kick failed), 8:16.
RUSHING–Burlington Central: Samaan 2-24, Bergemann 14-22, Kowall 7-10, Jenkins 6-9, Kerr 1-5, Person 1-3. CL Central: Buehler 18-107, Penza 9-66, Team 2-minus 2. Totals: 29-171.
PASSING–Burlington Central: Bergemann 12-18-0-160, Person 1-5-0-8. CL Central: Penza 16-27-0-290.
RECEIVING–Burlington Central: Kerr 4-29, Gilroy 4-19, Person 3-72, West 2-48. CL Central: Hammond 5-110, Noennig 3-71, Dimopoulos 3-49, Tomasiewicz 2-41, Kelley 2-18.
TOTAL TEAM YARDS–Burlington Central 240, CL Central 461.