CRYSTAL LAKE – Just about a year ago, Jason Penza snapped a picture with his phone that would serve as a yearlong motivator.
Penza, who missed most of last season with a broken arm, including the game against South, looked at that picture every day.
“I made it the background on my phone,” Penza said. “Couldn’t help but see it.”
The 6-foot-2 senior erased all memory of that photo as he threw for a career-high 406 yards and four touchdowns and added a fifth on a late TD run as Central dominated its crosstown rival 34-0 Friday at South’s Ken Bruhn Field.
Penza completed 16 of his 26 passes with 10 going to George Dimopoulos for a career-high 219 yards and three scores.
The fourth TD pass was to Griffin Buehler (17 carries, 70 yards) as he caught a short toss from Penza and scampered across the field for a 41-yard score.
Penza also recorded an interception near the goal line that set up Central’s first score.
“Our goal was to get downfield on them,” Dimopoulos said. “They had a couple of talented guys out of the game, but we just did what we had to do. Jason and I just communicated and we got the job done.”
After a slow start – it was a 0-0 game after one quarter – the Tigers offense went to work. With Penza completing 5 of 6 passes for 120 yards, the Tigers grabbed a 13-0 halftime lead on TD grabs by Dimopoulos of 12 and 72 yards. The latter score was set up by a key interception from James Fier after the Gators marched deep into Central territory.
Penza then found Buehler for his score early in the third quarter and Dimopoulos on a 5-yard back-shoulder toss. Penza closed the scoring with a 10-yard run with 7:25 remaining.
“Last year, they beat us and they were skipping up and down our sidelines, so our guys were very excited for this game to come around,” Penza said. “We started slow, but that allowed me to see what their linebackers and DBs were doing on our run plays. Were they coming up fast? Were they sitting back? That set us up for later in the game.”
Tigers coach Dirk Stanger said what makes his quarterback special is more than his accurate right arm.
“Obviously, he has tremendous ability, but it’s the intangibles about Jason that make him priceless,” Stanger said. “He’s a leader. He plays safety for us. He controls the game. He’s tough. It’s in his DNA.
“And our defense was amazing. Those kids played their butts off. They’re starting to believe in themselves.”
South (2-3, 2-3) finished the night with 261 total yards. Quarterback Caden Casimino was 15 for 26 for 140 yards. Colton Hess grabbed five receptions for 85 yards while hard-running Jake Christensen rushed 19 times for 121 yards.
“They made a lot of big plays on us tonight,” South coach Rob Fontana said. “Penza is just a special athlete as a quarterback and George, at 6-4, is tough to defend. But you can do everything in the world to keep [Penza] in the pocket, but he’s such a great athlete he can kill you with his legs.”