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If anyone didn’t realize it entering Naperville Central’s Memorial Stadium on Friday night for the Redhawks’ game with No. 13 Wheaton Warrenville South, the point was hammered home in 12 minutes.
Junior wide receiver Ben Andreas is a difference maker for Naperville Central.
Helping Central jump out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead en route to a 24-13 upset of the Tigers, all the 5-foot-9, 155-pound Andreas did in the first quarter was return a punt for a TD, catch a TD pass from Redhawks’ quarterback Jake Kolbe and throw a TD pass to senior wide receiver Blake Butler.
“He makes plays. That’s what he does,” Kolbe said of Andreas after the game on Friday.
Suspended for the road losses at Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley to start the season, his impact has proven to be massive in only 12 quarters.
In those 12 quarters of action, Andreas has accounted for eight touchdowns, with six of them coming over the course of catching 16 passes for 363 yards.
“I just have been practicing hard, you know. Watching film and all that. Coming out here and doing my best,” Andreas said on Friday.
Described as the fastest player on the team by both Kolbe and Redhawks’ coach Mike Stine, all six of Andreas’ TD receptions have gone for at least 32 yards, with three of them eclipsing the 40-yard mark.
“Ben’s a weapon. You know, he gets the ball in his hands; he’s got a chance to score anywhere, anytime he touches it and he’s proven that in the games that he’s played so far this year,” Stine said.
Redhawks ‘D’ hits stride
Surrendering a combined 75 points while being handed a pair of losses certainly isn’t a way to begin a season.
But that’s what Naperville Central was looking at after dropping road games to both Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley.
Perhaps comforted by the fact that both Waubonsie and Neuqua enter Week 6 at 5-0, the Redhawks’ defense has gone to work during the last three weeks by allowing just 27 points combined as the Redhawks have rattled off three straight wins.
“Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley was the beginning of the season, nonconference game. It was a little tough at first because (we were a) little nervous, first games of the season,” Naperville Central sophomore linebacker Bobby McMillan said after the Redhawks’ 24-13 triumph on Friday. “But after that, we just told (ourselves), ‘It’s DVC time. We need to bounce back.’ Our goal this season was to win the DVC and hopefully become state champions. That’s still in our grasp right now.”
Over the last two weeks, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound McMillan has started to emerge as a playmaker by hauling in three interceptions, including two against Wheaton Warrenville South QB Ryan Graham, and recovering a fumble in the Redhawks’ 42-7 victory over West Aurora in Week 4.
McMillan, along with twin brothers, junior linebackers Cole and Jack Wooldridge, are key cogs of a youth movement on a Redhawks’ defense that lost numerous players from last year’s unit that played a pivotal role in their 9-4 season and run to the Class 8A state semifinals.
After forcing nine turnovers during their three-game winning streak, including forcing four Wheaton South miscues, perhaps that youth is starting to gain some traction for the Redhawks.
“To credit our kids, they bounced back terrifically after that 0-2 start and a lot of those problems (during) those first two games was, as coaches, we had to get better, too, and the kids bounce back,” Naperville Central defensive coordinator Mike Ulreich said. “We think after the last four weeks, we’re starting to click. We’re starting to play better as a unit. Our younger guys are starting to figure some things out.”
Naperville Central (3-2, 3-0 DuPage Valley) hopes to maintain at least a share of first place in the DVC by getting a victory at Glenbard North on Friday.
Neuqua shows a lot
As if opponents were having a hard enough time dealing with an offense that has topped the 40-point mark in four of its five games this year behind senior QB Dylan Andrew, senior RB Joey Rhattigan and junior WR Mike Dudek, Neuqua Valley is continuing to show those same opponents it’s more.
Highlighted by Dudek returning a kickoff for a TD in each of the last two weeks in shutout victories against St. Charles East and East Aurora, Neuqua Valley’s special teams unit has knocked it into high gear by returning a kickoff for a touchdown in four straight games.
“That’s something we spend a lot of time on. We spend a lot of time on special teams,” Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “We feel it’s a third of the game, so we spend time every day on our special teams.”
Senior free safety Josh Prescher started the streak with a 92-yard kickoff return in theWildcats’ 41-28 victory over Naperville Central in Week 2. The next week, Rhattigan followed suit with an 85-yard kickoff return in a 42-20 victory at South Elgin and Dudek has run with the baton with his two returns — beginning a 34-0 shutout of St. Charles East in Week 4 with a 90-yard jaunt into the end zone.
Neuqua Valley (5-0, 2-0 Upstate Eight Valley) looks to officially lock up a Class 8A postseason berth with a victory at Metea Valley (1-4, 0-3 Upstate Eight Valley) on Friday.
‘Race to five’
In Illinois prep football circles, the number five represents playoff eligibility.
Recording shutouts against East Aurora and Bartlett last week, District 204 rivals Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley are already there.
“I think it’s a race to get to six (wins). The race is always to get to six wins,” Ellinghaus said.“We’ve always felt like that the sooner we can get to six wins, the better. We have a chance this year to get to six wins quicker than we’ve been in the past and we’re looking forward to doing that. But we have to take one game at a time and we have to get five before we can try and win six. So being playoff eligible is certainly something that every team in the state strives for.”
While Neuqua is 5-0 for the first time in program history, and thus, have attained playoff-eligibility the quickest it ever has in program history, Waubonsie Valley (5-0, 2-0 Upstate Eight) is 5-0 to start a season for the first time since 1992.
Two other area programs have five wins in their respective sights: Naperville Central, which is riding a three-game winning streak, and Benet, which is off to a 4-1 start after Friday’s 44-6 victory over Marian Catholic. The Redwings can gain playoff eligibility in Class 7A with a win at St. Viator Friday.
“I actually told my team: ‘There’s five games left and every level, 1-4 doesn’t do it for you,’”Benet coach Pat New said. “A 2-3 finish gets you into the playoffs, but that gets you a date with Glenbard West or Lincoln-Way East. So I said really you gotta look at mentally going 3-2 here, these last five games.”