Nasir McKenzie helps Hersey past Wheaton Warrenville South, into Class 7A second round

Huskies senior scores 3 times

Hersey's Nasir Mckenzie, (2) is wrapped up by Wheaton Warrenville South's Connor Sliwa (2) and Lucas Rossini (29) during the IHSA Class 7A playoffs Saturday October 28, 2023 in Arlington Heights.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS – Every high school team has something to prove while dealing with an increase in pressure when the playoffs roll around.

Hersey is at a different level.

The Huskies are a powerhouse program in a conference (Mid-Suburban East) that is short on heavyweights.

Hosting Wheaton Warrenville South out of the rugged DuKane Conference Saturday night at Roland R. Goins Stadium, there was a sense Hersey was ripe for some negative exposure after rolling through the season at 9-0.

“I think pressure’s a good thing,” head coach Tom Nelson said. “It’s a privilege. It means people expect something out of you, so we embrace it. We thrive in that. We’re just excited to play playoff football, so no problem with the pressure.”

There were early problems against a Tigers team that came in at 5-4, but the Huskies emerged with a 28-19 win.

“I hear a lot of talk about we’re overrated,” senior running back Nasir McKenzie said. “I like to consider us underdogs. We come out here with the odds stacked against us. People think they can just come in here on our turf, bully us on our home field, but that’s not what happened.”

McKenzie helped Hersey, the No. 4 seed in Class 7A, avoid the upset bug against No. 29 WWS early. On the fourth play of the game, he ripped off a 73-yard touchdown run down the right sideline.

The Tigers answered back when junior quarterback Luca Carbonaro ran in from the 1-yard line late in the first quarter.

Junior QB Colton Gumino connected with senior star Carson Grove on a 37-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter to put Hersey up 14-7, but Carbonaro gave workhorse running back Matt Crider some more help with an 18-yard run right before halftime.

Wheaton Warrenville South's Amari Williams (24) and Max Schlegel (32) celebrate a late touchdown during the IHSA Class 7A playoffs Saturday October 28, 2023 in Arlington Heights.

“I was just really proud of these kids and how they fought,” WWS head coach Sean Norris said. “I told them we didn’t play like a No. 29 seed. They competed, they never backed down and they fought their tails off. That’s all we ask from them.”

A 2-yard TD run by McKenzie in the third quarter gave the Huskies a 21-13 and he made it 28-13 with a 9-yard run later in the third.

“It’s all preparation,” McKenzie said. “We know what we’re doing a week in advance so we come out here and it’s just poetry in motion. We just play our hardest. Big props to the line, big props to our skill positions, our quarterback Colton Gumino. He just makes everything work.”

Amari Williams scored on a 51-yard pass from Carbanaro in the fourth quarter, but another missed extra point hurt WWS, as did an earlier interception by Grove and a fumble.

“We prepared all week, harder even for them, so we weren’t taking them lightly,” said Grove, a Northwestern recruit. “They’re a very good football team. I would say that was our first playoff game we had to play, that first real football game all year. I think we responded to adversity real nicely.”