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Naperville Central's Nick Thomas runs in for a touchdown against West Aurora in Naperville on Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media
Moments after playing a pivotal role in a decisive victory over West Aurora, Naperville Central junior quarterback Jake Kolbe was very succinct in describing his team’s mindset.
“We’ll enjoy this win for tonight and move on to Wheaton South,” Kolbe said after completing 16-of-24 passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns in Naperville Central’s 42-7 triumph.
In some aspects, moving on to Friday night’s annual matchup with No. 13 Wheaton Warrenville South will be easy.
After all, the Tigers are the standard bearer of what is widely considered to be one of the best football conferences in Illinois.
But for Naperville Central lately, Wheaton Warrenville South has been the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Central has lost eight straight games to Wheaton South, dating back to November 2004.
Following the Redhawks’ 20-17 victory on Oct. 22, 2004, the Tigers’ eight straight wins have come by an average margin of 21.3 points, with the closest meeting coming last year when the Tigers jumped to a 14-0 lead before holding on for a 14-7 victory.
Naperville Central coach Mike Stine is downplaying the recent history his program has had with Wheaton Warrenville South.
“It’s another game. It’s another game. This team doesn’t care what other teams have done,” Stine said. “This team cares about this game and it’s Week 5. That’s all we’ve talked about. None of that other stuff matters.”
For Stine, Friday night is about trying to sustain the momentum that his team has established over the last two weeks, which has seen the Redhawks outscore Glenbard East and West Aurora by a combined score of 83-7.
Putting up two consecutive 40-point wins, highlighted by junior wide receiver Ben Andreas’ contributions, has marked a sharp contrast to the hole Naperville Central (2-2, 2-0 DuPage Valley) dug itself in starting its season by losing games to both Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley.
“Yeah, we’ve executed a little bit different, a little bit better. We’ve got some guys back that didn’t play those first two games that obviously make us a little bit better,” Stine said. “And we’ve been executing. This is a new week. Again, you know, we gotta go out and try and continue to execute offensively and defensive, try and stay away from giving up big plays. We’ve been able to do a pretty good job of both of those the last couple weeks.”
However, the Redhawks’ task gets a little tougher than the last two weeks, with the defending Class 7A runner-ups coming to Memorial Stadium to provide the best litmus test to see how far they’ve come since the Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley setbacks.
Overcoming a 21-6 halftime deficit at home last week against Naperville North, Wheaton Warrenville South (2-2, 2-0 DuPage Valley) used an 18-point second half, which included 12 fourth-quarter points, to rally for a 24-21 victory.
“We’re hoping that we can build off that second half against Naperville North,” Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch said. “We’ve had some real off-again, on-again injuries, so it’s been real hard to try and keep our kids solid on the field and be consistent with the way we’re playing,
“So we’re really getting a lot of kids experience and that’s a good thing and a bad thing in the same breath, so we’ll see.”
Tigers’ junior quarterback Ryan Graham, who completed 15-of-29 passes for 201 yards and a TD, hit senior wide receiver Brandon Moore for a 47-yard TD pass as time expired to deny the Huskies their first victory at Red Grange Field since 2003.
As a sophomore last year, Graham saw limited time against the Redhawks, completing eight-of-13 passes for 73 yards.
But what has Redhawk coaches concerned is the fact Graham can beat you both with his arm and his legs. He continues to lead Wheaton South in rushing after running for a team-high 53 yards last week.
“Yeah, I mean, we’ve got to get to see the last couple games with Graham, I think his last three games, and he’s getting better every week,” Naperville Central defensive coordinator Mike Ulreich said. “He wasn’t a full-time starter last year and he was banged up at times last year. You can tell he’s getting better and you can tell he’s a very athletic kid.
“Their quarterback is more of a threat running this year than they were a year ago. You can tell he throws well out of the pocket. When he gets out of the pocket and gets his feet set, he makes some great throws.”
Going into his team’s game against Naperville North last week, Muhitch mentioned his desire to try and see Graham get the ball into the hands of Moore and their other top senior wide receiver, Corey Davis.
Against the Huskies, the duo combined for nine receptions for 142 yards and Moore’s 47-yard TD to end the game, so that development could prove to be troubling for future opposition.
While the Tigers may be lacking their past firepower exhibited by quarterback Reilly O’Toole and running back Dan Vitaleduo, now playing at Illinois and Northwestern, Stine knows the test his team will try to counter tonight.
“You know how they’re gonna line up. They’re not gonna do anything different,” he said. “They’re gonna line up the same way they’ve always lined up and try and out-execute us. We have to be able to try and out-execute them with our offense.”