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Naperville North's Johnny Brown is tackled by Naperville Central's Ryan Berg at Benedetti - Wehrli Stadium in Naperville on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media
Signature victories aren’t a topic of discussion at Naperville North.
So with his team’s 26-23 victory over crosstown rival Naperville Central in the rearview mirror, Naperville North coach Sean Drendel says the fact No. 9 Glenbard North comes calling Friday night at Harshbarger-Welzel Field doesn’t really matter.
It’s about his Huskies, who are on a four-game win streak, continuing to play well while on the way to their 16th consecutive postseason appearance next week.
“We’re just trying to get better. I think we’re very similar to the team we had two years ago,” Drendel said of his first team in 2010 that reached the Class 8A quarterfinals. “We have some great leaders on our team, some guys that are maybe not well-known, but they’re great leaders. They are guys that are on our scout team and senior leadership that, you know, goes a long way when it comes to senior year.”
“Our kids are excited to be out at practice and they’re getting after it. Any time you’re in that situation, you feel good about your team and you hope to just be playing next week.”
All Glenbard North (7-1, 6-0 DuPage Valley) has done is rattle off seven straight victories as a response to its 42-41 season-opening loss to Batavia while wrapping up at least a share of its first DuPage Valley Conference title since 1991 in the process.
One week after their 17-15 victory over sixth-ranked Wheaton North, the Panthers will be looking to take the title outright but with a different goal in mind.
“I’ll tell you what’s most important is just us being able to move to a higher playoff seed,” Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens said. “There’ll be time to look back and talk about the conference title, but right now we’re drilling home to our kids how important it is for us (to win) and (how it can affect) our seeding.”
Behind junior running back Justin Jackson and senior quarterback Brian Murphy, the Panthers’ offense has averaged 33.5 points a game as expectations for a long Class 8A postseason run have been raised.
The 6-foot, 175-pound Jackson has rushed for 1,620 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. Last season he rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in Glenbard North’s 34-10 victory over Naperville North.
“Justin Jackson’s probably one of the best athletes in our league that we’ve had and you’ve got a winner at quarterback in Murphy and (Ryan) Storto’s a great receiver,” Drendel said. “So, offensively, I know Justin Jackson gets a lot of credit and rightfully so, but they got a lot of pieces to the puzzle that make the team very dynamic.”
While Murphy, Jackson and Storto will lead Glenbard North’s offense against a Naperville North defense that Wilkens says is getting better each week, the Huskies will counter with a stout running game of its own, led by Sharad Crosby and DeSean Brown.
Three Huskies ran for at least 40 yards in their win over Naperville Central and their running game averaged 385.7 yards in the three weeks prior, which saw the Huskies outscore their three opponents, 121-15.
“Their offensive line is tremendous. They’re big tackles and their center is 6-4-plus. They can run the ball,” Wilkens said. “Their running backs, all three of them (Crosby, DeSean Brown and Kendall Veluvolu) run hard and their defense seems to be progressing every single week. Very aggressive.
“Without question we need to make them throw the ball and the problem is there, if (Huskies’ senior quarterback Johnny Brown) doesn’t have a whole lot to throw to, he can take off and run. He was pretty loose in the pocket against Central and in his previous games. But his ability to pull it down and go or extend the play is a scary thing.” Shooting for their first victory over Glenbard North since 2008, Naperville North (5-3, 4-2 DuPage Valley) will officially clinch a berth into the Class 8A field with a victory. Otherwise, they’ll rely on their 39 playoff points to get them in.
Drendel isn’t putting much emphasis on the number placed next to his team’s name when the IHSA releases playoff pairings Saturday night.
As a 5-4 team in 2009 and 2011, the Huskies were handed a 16th seed and 14th seed, respectively, before losing in the first round in both years while Drendel’s first team went 6-3 in 2010, earning a No. 9 seed, en route to winning two playoff games.
“I think it matters, but it doesn’t kill you. I mean, Wheaton South was a 6-3 team and played for a state title (in 2011),” he said of seeding. “Naperville Central wasn’t a high seed last year. They went a round, had the big win (against Minooka), ultimately were a play away from possibly winning a state title by beating Bolingbrook.
“It matters a little bit, but being on the road or being at home in the playoffs in high school football ... it’s not as big a deal as people make it out to be.”