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Naperville Central holds off Hawks in Associated Press' Class 8A Top 6 showdown in Naperville

In a game that was worthy of being played on the turf at Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois for the IHSA Class 8A State Championship, Naperville Central defeated Maine South 31-30.

Naperville Central (6-0) entered the game ranked fourth in Class 8A by the Associated Press' Illinois high school football writers. Maine South (5-1) was ranked No. 6.

Maine South has won five IHSA state football championships in its history, while Naperville Central has won two

On a beautiful spring Friday night in Naperville, the Hawks won the first half 24-14. The Redhawks won the second half 17-6.

With 3:30 remaining in the contest, Naperville Central grabbed their first lead of the game on a 4-yard run by senior Jaden McGill (10 carries, 67 yards, TD) and after Redhawk place kicker Aidan Ellisons' PAT gave the Redhawks a 31-24 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Ellison, for the fifth time in the game had his kickoff go out of the end zone and forced the Hawks to go 80-yards, starting from their 20.

Led by their junior quarterback Rowan Keefe, the Hawks answered with an 80-yard scoring drive.

With 2:40 remaining in the game Keefe, hit senior Mike Sajenko (six catches,53 yards,TD; 15 carries, 67 yards) for 13-yards and a first down. With 1:30 left, Keefe hooked up with Northwestern-bound tight end Chris Petrucci (six catches, 115 yards,TD) for a 45-yard strike to the Naperville Central 11.

After a seven-yard loss on quarterback sack, the Hawks had the ball at the Redhawk 18.

With 1:16 left, Sajenko made an incredible catch. Keefe threw a perfect spiral and Sajenko went up with two Redhawk defenders draped all-over him and just took the ball away from them for an 18-yard scoring strike.

Naperville Central 31 Maine South 30. Point-after-touchdown upcoming.

The entire Naperville Central line, overwhelmed the Hawks line and the PAT never had a chance and was blocked. The Hawks had an unsuccessful on-side-kick that was recovered by the Redhawks who ran out the clock.

The Hawks took the opening kickoff and went on a 16-play, 85-yard scoring drive capped off by a nine-yard scoring strike from Keefe to Petrucci and led 7-0 after one quarter.

Naperville Central answered on a 19-yard scoring strike from junior quarterback Owen Purcha (12-for-21, 183 yards, two TD) to Caden Wanner (two catches, 20 yards, TD) with 11:07 in the half.

Forty-five seconds later, senior Joey Dellumo (nine carries, 92 yards,TD) was off to the races for a 74-yard touchdown run to put the Hawks back up 14-7. Naperville Central answered on a 59-yard scoring strike from Purcha to McGill to tie the game at 14-14 with 7:58 in the half.

With 4:33 in the half Keefe crashed in from the two to give the Hawks a 21-14 lead. A 30-yard pass from Keefe to Petrucci set up the Keefe touchdown.

In the final minute of the half, Keefe drove the Hawks down the field and with 21 seconds remaining in the half connected with senior Luke Kracik (six catches, 126 yards) on a 46-yard strike to the Redhawk 8 yard-line, with 8 seconds left.

After a first down, the clock will not start until the chain gain has reset the first down marker.

Amazingly, one of the officials started to wind the clock before the chain gang had reset the chains. The Hawks raced to the line and spiked the ball to stop the clock. With what should have been eight seconds remaining in the half, the Hawks were given only three seconds.

Just up from the sophomore team, Hawks placekicker Sam Taglia put the Hawks up 24-14 with a 23-yard field goal.

The second half belonged to the Redhawks.

The game can be known as game of inches. The Hawks lost two fumbles and Keefe threw one interception.

On five occasions the Redhawks fumbled the ball, only to have recovered each one. The Hawks could not get a break.

Keefe completed 28 of his 42 passes for 375 yards and two touchdowns and the interception.

"Naperville Central is a great team but we are a great team, too," Keefe said, "We didn't do the little things tonight, that we had to do to beat Naperville Central. I am so proud of my teammates for the way we fought. What a great drive and what a great catch by Mike (Sajenko)."

"I take the blame for tonight's loss," Maine South coach David Inserra said. "I really liked our chances in overtime and that is why we kicked the extra points. I am so proud of the way we fought back right to the very end."


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