NAPERVILLE, Ill. – Redhawks Nation is at full strength in November.
Naperville Central cruised to a 43-3 victory over Belleville East in the second round of the IHSA Class 8A football playoffs on Friday night and though the home stands were nearly filled at kickoff, plenty more fans made their way to Memorial Stadium after watching the Redhawks' boys soccer team advance to the state finals with a 4-3 win over Fremd in penalty kicks.
"Redhawks athletics -- it's unreal right now," said quarterback Ian Lewandowski, who scored three first-half touchdowns. "I don't think anyone expected the Redhawks to be like this this year. Our soccer team is in the state finals, we're in the quarterfinals and all of our teams are doing a great job. We have the biggest fan base in the state, I think, and with all of the support from the community, it's just awesome. Everybody's in a great mood because of this."
After receiving the opening kickoff, Naperville Central (8-3) jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks to a five-play drive which ended in the first of two Tyler Gillen field goals. The visiting Lancers (6-4) would respond, stringing together an 11-play drive of their own and evening the score with a 23-yard field goal from Austin Bartle. From that point on, however, everything went the Redhawks' way.
On the ensuing possession, senior running back Matt Randolph (199 yards, 2 TDs) put Naperville Central back on top with a 2-yard touchdown run, and just three plays later, defensive lineman Zach Borta sacked Belleville East quarterback David Carter in the end zone for a safety. Naperville Central would score once more before the first quarter came to a close as Lewandowski reached paydirt on a 1-yard quarterback sneak, giving Naperville Central a 19-3 advantage.
Midway through the second quarter, Naperville Central's Pat Clark recovered a Belleville East fumble and Lewandowski then tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass to John Dicianni on the very next play from scrimmage. The Redhawks’ senior quarterback added a 6-yard touchdown run less than two-minutes later and the Redhawks took a 33-3 lead into halftime.
"One thing this group prides itself on is coming out and giving great effort," said Redhawks head coach Mike Stine. "Right from the get-go, we wanted to come out, take the ball down the field and score. They held us to a field goal and then came back and tied us 3-3, but we were able to break [things open] after that.
"Matt was special again tonight, [as was] our offensive line, Ian and our defense. That's a great offense over there and to hold them out of the end zone was a great effort by that group of guys."
The Redhawks didn't let up int he second half either, scoring their final ten points within four minutes of the kickoff and a running clock was put into effect with 7:43 remaining in the third quarter. Naperville Central would force a total of four Belleville East turnovers in the game, but Lancers head coach Tim Funk didn't attribute his team's woes to the 270-plus mile bus-trip his team took for the second week in a row. Rather, Funk acknowledged the strength of Naperville Central's defense.
"That's not why we lost tonight -- we got beat by a better football team," said Funk. "When you play a team like [Naperville Central] you can't make mistakes like we did and they deserve a lot of credit. We're not going to take anything away from them, but at the same time, in order to do the things we need to do to be successful, we can't turn the ball over, we needed to play solid defense and they're a good football team. They played a lot better than we did tonight, obviously."
The win pushed Naperville Central into the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2006, and the Redhawks are now set to host Homewood-Flossmoor next weekend.
"I don't know much about them other than they put 40 [points] on the board every game," Stine said about the Vikings. "We're going to have a great defensive effort and figure out a way to try and slow them down."
Though the Redhawks have a full week of practice on the horizon, Stine's squad will put down their pads and head out to Frankfort on Saturday night, where they'll on the soccer team as it faces Morton High School in the IHSA Class 3A state championship.
"We're one big happy family," Stine said with a smile. "We love each other, we cheer for one another and we're out here practicing and sharing the field with the soccer team. There's no rivalry -- we want them to win the state title, they want us to win the state title and we're going to try and make a run at it."
Player of the game: Naperville Central Sr. QB Ian Lewandowski: 6-of-12, 129 yards, TD and 9 carries, 32 yards, 2 TDs; Sr. RB Matt Randolph: 16 carries, 199 yards, 2 TDs. / Belleville East Sr. RB ReShawn Bean: 20 carries, 49 yards, Jr. K Austin Bartle: 23-yard FG
Stat of the game: None of the Redhawks' eight scoring drives lasted longer than 2:20.
It was over when: Naperville Central went ahead 43-3 after a 76-yard Matt Randolph touchdown run, causing a running clock to be used over the final 19:43.
Quote of the night: "Redhawk pride is so high right now… It's great to be a Redhawk. Everyone in the school, our fans, the entire Redhawk community is rallying behind our teams right now and it's just fun. It's fun to be a Redhawk." Naperville Central Sr. RB Matt Randolph.