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Naperville Central takes down Naperville North in 8A opener

NAPERVILLE – Naperville Central defeated crosstown rival Naperville North 28-16 Friday night in a first-round Class 8A football playoff game at North.

Twice in the first half, North was deep into the Redhawks’ red zone. But the Huskies had only a 28-yard David Olano field goal to show for their efforts.

Owen Prucha, the Redhawks’ focal point as quarterback, made the Huskies pay.

Prucha directed the Redhawks’ rushing attack with 25 rushes  for 194 yards as Central had three unanswered scores following the Olano field goal to reverse its DuPage Valley Conference regular-season verdict with the Huskies.

Prucha scored once on the ground and found Tristen Hall on a critical fourth-and-14 conversion for the Redhawks’ first-quarter-tying score from 24 yards out.

Barring a monumental upset by 32nd-seeeded Downers Grove South on Saturday afternoon in Wilmette, the Redhawks (7-3) will face top-seeded Loyola (9-0) at home in the second round.

The Huskies had their five-game winning streak snapped in closing out a conference championship season at 6-4.

What Prucha really liked was what his defensive teammates like Ethan Pytlak, Ryan Spickerman, Charlie Egan and Brian McInerney did.

“That was amazing to see,” Prucha said. “Our defense locked them down. The first time we played (the Huskies) were running all over the defense. The defense juiced up the offense.”

But the Redhawks exploited two short fields for touchdowns to take a 14-10 lead at halftime. Senior wide receiver Reggie Fleurima then took a punt return 49 yards late in the third to make it 21-10.

“It was a ‘special’ return, which basically means we were sending the house with our linemen to try and get a block (to spring) the return,” said Fleurima, who is headed to  Northwestern.

North returned the ball to Redhawks’ territory on the ensuing possession but was stopped on downs, and Prucha proceeded to essentially ice the game with a time-consuming drive he culminated with a 2-yard keeper with 7:43 left to play.

The Redhawks amassed 343 yards on 47 carries as Tyler Dodd, who gave Central the lead for good with a short second-quarter touchdown burst, augmented the team-high Prucha total with 96 yards.

Hall moved to the feature-back role and gained 53 more yards after Dodd left the game with an injury in the third quarter.

“We just wanted to run the ball,” Fleurima said. “I don’t think we threw a single pass in the second half. Us receivers were doing a lot of watching.”

North was powered by Ethan Robert, who gained a game-high 203 yards on 28 rushes.

Fellow back Nathan Jacobs and starting quarterback Aidan Gray scored the Huskies’ two touchdowns on short runs.

“They score a fourth-down touchdown, and we drop one (for a sure score),” North coach Sean Drendel said. “That’s the game-changer. We got beat up front and didn’t respond. We didn’t play our best game.”