BURLINGTON – Football teams will often say “we had a great week of practice,” but that’s often an unquantifiable statement. However, Huntley’s football players – to a player and coach – were able to pinpoint exactly what that phrase meant and turn the results into victory.
The Red Raiders bounced back from a humbling loss to Prairie Ridge the week before and rode the strong legs of junior fullback Haiden Janke and a solid defensive effort in posting a 16-7 Fox Valley Conference victory over Burlington Central on a perfect Friday night at The Hill.
“You’re not going to win every football game you play,” Huntley coach Mike Naymola said. “What counts is how you respond to that loss. We responded with two of the best practices we’ve had all year.”
That point was echoed by senior offensive tackle Eric Bower who along with linemates Jack Crudele, Vinny Tiberi, Cameron Mueller, and Peyton Grannis paved the way for Huntley’s offense.
“We went at each other this week,” Bower said with an emphasis on the ‘at.’ “We were super-physical and we challenged one another. Not at all in a negative way, but we had a chip on our shoulder after last week. We knew we didn’t play our best and we just wanted to bring the best out in each other.”
The Raiders’ O-line provided the spark for Huntley’s 306-yard offensive output of which 203 came on the ground. The tireless Janke rushed 29 times for 145 yards and caught a key 15-yard screen pass from quarterback Sam Deligio (11 for 20, 103 yards).
“The O-line did it all for me tonight. They blocked great and I only had to read their blocks and make a few cutbacks,” Janke said. “All week we had a feeling we were going to come out and get this done. We came together as a team and worked hard.”
The defense, meanwhile, held Central (1-3, 1-3) to 40 rushing yards. Though BC quarterback Jackson Alcorn threw for 179 yards and one touchdown, the sophomore was on the run much of the night and was sacked three times.
“I felt like we overcame some doubt after last week and we rallied to the ball well tonight,” linebacker Dashaun Manning said. “This week, the practices were solid. We built the momentum every day pointing to tonight.”
Huntley jumped to a 10-0 halftime lead on a 27-yard Mason Wojtas field goal and a 10-yard scoring strike from Deligio to Josh Witt (3 receptions, 30 yards). Alcorn got the Rockets on the board midway through the fourth quarter when he found Michael Person (8 receptions, 102 yards) with a 10-yard touchdown pass with 7:32 to play, cutting the Huntley lead to 10-7.
However, the Raiders responded with a nine-play, 72-yard scoring drive. Janke carried seven times for 59 yards, caught a key screen pass on fourth down for 15 more, and capped the march with a 4-yard plunge with 2:32 remaining.
Burlington Central coach Brian Iossi held his thumb and index finger just an inch apart when addressing his team after the contest.
“I told them that’s how close we are to being a great team. That (pointing to Huntley’s huddle) is a great football team over there, but our kids battled them,” the first-year coach said. “We seem to be in one-point games a lot (Central beat Hampshire, 15-14, in Week1 and lost, 8-7, to Dundee-Crown last week). But we’re a young group, we’ve learned a lot in these four games and I’m just so proud of how we fought tonight.”