Naperville Central loses two-way starter Niko Gordon, gets an emotional win at Hinsdale Central

HINSDALE – Moments after opening the season with a 14-2 victory at Hinsdale Central on Friday, the Naperville Central coaches gathered their players in the end zone and asked for a moment of silence for running back Niko Gordon, who suffered a severe ankle injury midway through the first quarter.

Gordon, a two-way starter last season, caught a swing pass from quarterback Owen Prucha, turned upfield and went down in pain after being taken down by Hinsdale Central linebacker Sean Allison.

Both teams knelt as Gordon was attended to by the medical staff. He gave a thumbs-up while being taken to an ambulance, and Allison went over to shake Gordon’s hand as he was being taken off.

“It was terrible to see him down and injured,” Prucha said. “It’s serious and everyone knew that. You never want to see your teammate like that, so we all knew we needed to play for him. ... We’re hoping he’s going to be all right.”

Said Mike Ulreich, who made his high school coaching debut: “The hardest thing about coaching is seeing a kid that worked that hard and then getting injured like he did. It breaks your heart. ...

“We’ve had some really good players in the past in the off-season and unfortunately they get a bad injury like that. Our hearts are heavy. Can’t wait to talk to him.”

After a scoreless first half that featured nine punts and two turnovers — both recovered by the Red Devils — Naperville Central took a 7-0 lead when Prucha hit James Jopes on a 9-yard touchdown pass with 2:05 remaining in the third quarter. It completed an 11-play, 74-yard drive that included a 16-yard pass from Prucha to Tristen Hall on the play before the touchdown.

Running back Tyler Dodd, who replaced Gordon, kept the drive alive by gaining four yards on third-and-4 from the Hinsdale Central 34. Dodd finished with 83 yards on 26 carries.

Thirty-four seconds later, the Redhawks made it 14-0 when linebacker Ethan Pytlak picked off a pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.

“I just got in my drop, our DBs had (the wide receiver) locked down deep and I was in the right spot at the right time,” Pytlak said. “Made a big play.”

Hinsdale Central had a chance to get back in the game after an 8-yard punt gave the Red Devils the ball at the NCHS 10 with 4:11 remaining. Hinsdale Central had fourth-and-goal at the 2, but only gained 1 yard on a QB keeper by Ben Monahan.

The Red Devils got on the board by recording a safety on the next play.

Redhawks wide receiver Reggie Fleurima had six catches for 51 yards. Prucha was 14 for 19 for 114 yards.

Ty Randle had a big game defensively, with the highlight being a 6-yard sack late in the third quarter that forced a punt.

“He’s awesome,” Pytlak said. “I’m so glad I don’t have to go out and block him. He’s one of the best edge rushers in the state.”

The Redhawks held Hinsdale Central to 28 rushing yards on 16 attempts.

Afterward, Ulreich told his team: “Every team in the state needs to learn how to win a football game. It takes defense and big plays. It really started with our defensive line. They could not run the football. We teed off. I mean our defensive backs played their butts off too.”