NAPERVILLE – New faces were the theme for Naperville Central’s football team Aug. 26.
The Redhawks opened the season with several first-time starters against Hinsdale Central.
Senior quarterback Chris McCormack was among the first-timers.
“We have a very young offense and defense, so we knew nerves definitely would take place for us tonight,” McCormack said.
Soon enough, the Redhawks’ offense starting rolling, and the defense did its customary solid job while the special teams stepped up with a key field goal and a touchdown.
McCormack passed for a touchdown, sophomore linebacker Gavin Wade added a touchdown off a bad punt snap and the Redhawks’ defense played solid to spark a 24-9 victory in a nonconference game in Naperville.
McCormack sealed the victory with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Christopher Bern with 23 seconds left in regulation. Bern, in his first varsity game, caught six passes for 75 yards and a TD.
“All week we had some great practices because the scout team was helping us out,” Bern said. “That [touchdown] felt amazing. It was a tough game, a little nerve-wracking. I was shaking when I first got out there, but my teammates really helped me.”
McCormack showed some moxie against Hinsdale Central’s tough defense, enduring some rough spots to finish with a big second half. He completed 8-of-9 passes in the second half to finish 14-of-20 passing for 145 yards. He tossed a 6-yard TD pass to Tyler Dodd to extend the lead to 17-3 with 6:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Our scout team on defense gave us great looks in practice and helped give us an open book,” McCormack said. “We got locked in after halftime and played great.”
After both teams settled for field goals following their first drives of the game, the battle of high-powered programs turned into a defensive affair. Wade, also playing in his first varsity game, delighted the overflow crowd by recovering a fumble off an errant punt snap in the end zone for the first touchdown of the game.
Wade showed off his speed, outrunning Hinsdale Central’s Ben Monahan to the loose ball. He pounced on the ball in the end zone to give Naperville Central a 10-3 edge at the 3:36 mark of the second quarter. Wade added a deflection and recorded half a sack to make a smashing debut.
“It was amazing, just in the moment, it was crazy,” Wade said of his TD. “My teammates put me in that position. I was full of speed. I knew I was going to get the ball.”
Led by two sacks from veteran defensive lineman Maverick Ohle, Naperville Central’s defense finished with three sacks to go with an interception by Ryan Spickerman.
The Red Devils, thanks to a hurry-up offense on their second-to-last drive, spoiled Naperville Central’s quest to hold Hinsdale Central without a touchdown for the second year in a row. Billy Cernugel scored on a 4-yard keeper with 3:41 remaining.
The Red Devils (0-1) took an unorthodox approach to their offense, rotating Monahan and Cernugel several times on drives, sometimes two or three times within the same drive. The constant rotation of quarterbacks didn’t confuse the Redhawks’ defense. Hinsdale Central’s offense was held to just under 100 yards of total offense in the first half.
Cernugel passed for 71 yards and ran for 66 yards. Monahan finished with 46 yards passing and an interception and 33 yards rushing.
“I think [Naperville Central] executed at a high level consistently and we did not,” Hinsdale Central coach Brian Griffin said. “We didn’t consistently or effectively execute, so that made for a long and frustrating night. But this is a gritty and tough group. We have some inexperience at spots that we have to get better. This group works, so I’m confident they will bounce back.”