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Glenbard North running back Justin Jackson high steps away from the West Aurora defender. | Jeff Krage~For Sun-Times Media
Upsetting previously unbeaten Glenbard North in Week 6 last year, Naperville Central jumped onto the radar screen into what would develop into a nine-win season and a trip to the state semifinals.
Off the heels of securing its first victory over Wheaton Warrenville South in eight years last week, Naperville Central gets to deal with a formidable Panthers squad, ranked 16th this week by the Sun-Times, while hoping to further validate what it accomplished in its 24-13 upset of the Tigers.
“Every week is a new challenge. You know, we have a challenge. Last week, our goal was to get to three (wins). Now we gotta try and get to four and that’s (our focus),” Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said. “Glenbard North is the next team. They’re (good). I love playing Glenbard North. You know, I told our team, ‘it’s like playing old-school football because you know what you’re gonna get.’
“You know it’s gonna be physical. They’re not gonna try and out-fancy you. They’re gonna line up and they’re gonna play and it’s how the game of football is supposed to be played. So, you know, it’s exciting to go play a team that likes to play football that way.”
Without a doubt, task No. 1 for Naperville Central (3-2, 3-0 DuPage Valley), which brings a three-game winning streak to Carol Stream tonight, is stopping Glenbard North junior running back Justin Jackson.
The 6-foot, 175-pound Jackson, who has received scholarship offers from the likes of Boston College, Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue, has run the ball 113 times for 1,028 yards and has tallied 18 total touchdowns as Glenbard North (4-1, 3-0 DuPage Valley) has rattled off four straight wins since losing its season opener to Batavia.
Back in the Panthers’ 56-14 victory over Glenbard East in Week 4, he set both a program and DVC single-game record back in Week 4 when he ran for 351 yards in the Panthers’ 56-14 victory over Glenbard East.
“He’s very good. He’s a very good player. He runs hard,” Naperville Central defensive coordinator Mike Ulreich said of Jackson. “I think the surprising thing watching film is how hard he runs in between the tackles. You just think of him as a speed guy and you think of him as an athletic kid, but he runs hard. When he gets vertical, it’s scary—that’s for sure.”
In the Redhawks’ 10-6 victory last year, Jackson ran for 23 yards on nine carries while the Redhawks’ defense contained his older brother, Phil, to 106 yards and a late touchdown on 22 carries.
Going up against quality running backs isn’t a new phenomenon or something new for Ulreich’s charges.
After all, Naperville Central opened up its season against the likes of Waubonsie Valley’s Austin Guido, who sits at 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season, and Neuqua Valley’s Joey Rhattigan, who has rattled off 767 yards and 12 touchdowns through five games.
“Just sharpening things up (from Weeks 1 and 2), they look more in tight. They get flow to the ball well. Their defensive line is better,” Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens said. “The (Cole and Jack) Wooldridge brothers are good players. The (Luke) Roth kid is a very good player. They just really fly to the ball now. I’m not sure what has happened between Weeks 1 and 2 and the rest of the season so far for them, but they look much stronger on defense.”
While much attention is paid towards Jackson, Panthers’ senior quarterback Brian Murphy does a good job at piloting a Panthers’ offense averaging 40.8 points a game.
Murphy, an all-state wrestler who has committed to Michigan, left last year’s meeting with the Redhawks during the Panthers’ second offensive series after being sacked by Gannon Davis and didn’t return.
With Jackson carrying the heavy lifting, Murphy has thrown for five TD passes while running for two more.
“He’s a competitor. He’s an athlete. He can play defense. I’ve put some similarities and I don’t know if it’s fair or not fair, but I’ve told people him and (former Naperville Central QB) Ian Lewandowski are similar type quarterbacks, you know,” Stine said. “Some people would say they’re not your typical high school quarterback, but you know what? You live and die with guys who’ll battle like those guys will and Murphy’s just like that.”
Offensively, Naperville Central will look to build off its 24-point first-half against Wheaton Warrenville South, which saw junior wide receiver Ben Andreas score in three different ways: a punt return, catching a TD pass and throwing for a TD.
Andreas has caught 16 passes for 363 yards and six touchdowns from junior QB Jake Kolbe, who has thrown for 940 yards and nine touchdowns on 62 percent passing.
“We’ve seen quality receivers but not someone with those abilities, with the speed,” Wilkens said of Andreas. “We’ve seen the kid from Batavia, the (Zach) Strittmater kid. He’s like 6-5. He had a good game against us. But (we haven’t seen) no one with the athleticism or the speed that Andreas brings to the game.”
Andreas’ exploits aside, Stine knows improvement on offense is essential if his team hopes to win at Glenbard North for the first time since a 35-28 victory on Oct. 12, 2007.
“Defensively, they’re aggressive and they’re gonna try and take away what you do best, so we have to be able to execute,” he said. “We have to try and stay on the field a little bit more offensively than we did last week, eventhough we scored. The first half, we scored big but, you know, we need to be on the field a little bit more than we were in the second half last week.”
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