DOWNERS GROVE – Starting senior guard and co-captain Griffin Keown and his Downers Grove North teammates enjoyed a moment Sept. 30 that none of them ever remembered happening before.
After the Trojans defeated rival Hinsdale Central 23-3 and their home fans stormed Carstens Field, the players embraced the Old Oaken Bucket traveling trophy for the winner for the first time since 2006.
“Ever since I’ve been coming to games since I was a little kid, I just saw us getting whooped by Hinsdale. It’s finally great to be out on this field winning that bucket,” Keown said.
The Trojans (5-1, 2-1 in the West Suburban Silver) won behind another great defensive effort led by junior Cael Brezina’s 33-yard pick-six and blocked punt less than three minutes earlier, and junior running back Noah Battle rushing for 151 yards on 21 carries, including a 73-yard TD run for the game’s first score.
“It’s huge and not only the bucket,” Brezina said. “This senior class has gone through so much and they wanted this win. ... It’s just great to be able to contribute in a big way to that.”
Hinsdale Central (3-3, 1-2) had won the previous 14 meetings and leads 52-32-3 in the series that dates to 1935.
With their fifth victory, the Trojans also became playoff eligible after finishing 4-5 in 2021. They can become the program’s first team to win six regular-season games since 2005.
“This is the biggest game of the year for us. We made it really known we wanted to get this bucket back for this year,” Battle said. “We made it count and now we’ve punched our ticket to the playoffs, being 5-1, so we’re happy.”
Four Downers North assistant coaches remain from that 2006 victory, including former head coach John Wander.
“We have so many players whose dads have played for North and heard them talk about it. The guys are looking for their dad’s [signed] names in the bucket, which is kind of fun,” Downers North coach Joe Horeni said.
“Super excited for our kids and our program. Hinsdale’s won the last two conference championships. And to get the fifth win as well. Really proud of our kids defensively.”
Battle’s TD run on the Trojans’ third play from scrimmage was his longest scoring run. Battle specifically noted blocks by Keown, tackle Henry Wilson and receiver Will Guerin.
“That was the best blocking all year. Everyone executed perfectly,” Battle said. ”[Then] it was just a straight shot to the end zone. Everyone contributed in their own way.”
“I got the safety [blocked]. I was on the ground. I stand up. Boom. He was gone,” Keown said. “I was ecstatic. Everyone was going crazy. I couldn’t be more excited about that run. That kid’s having a great season.”
Hinsdale Central played great defense, too. The Trojans took a 9-3 lead late in the third quarter when Brezina’s blocked punt resulted in Sean Rymiec’s 21-yard field goal.
Brezina’s pick-six came on the Red Devils’ next offensive play. Josh Lambert added a 2-yard TD run with 2:45 left.
“[The pick-six] was a route I watched all week on film. I saw it and jumped on it and it ended up working out,” Brezina said. “A blocked punt, that’s always a game change but a pick-six on defense, that’s a big play. It was essentially the game.”
The Trojans limited the Red Devils to two second-half first downs. The Red Devils scored in the second quarter on Ardit Abudullai’s field goal after a bad punt snap gave the Red Devils the ball at the 29.
The Red Devils’ injury misfortunes continued, especially on offense. Starting quarterback Billy Cernugel was lost to injury in the first quarter, resulting in three others playing quarterback – Kevin Coan, Reece Kolke and Gavin VandeLinde.
Starting guard Eisa Saleem also suffered a game-ending injury.
“It’s been rough,” Hinsdale Central coach Brian Griffin said. “The whole team across the board fought in a real tough situation. A lot of kids stepped up. And kudos to them. They fought hard, too. If you would have said we’d lose our quarterback in the first quarter and we’d go well into the third quarter [down] 6-3, our kids responded.”