Naperville Central ‘D’ delivers, eliminates Wheaton N. from contention

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The dominos have started to fall in the DuPage Valley.

The conference, which typically has sent four and five teams to the playoffs, is in danger of having only one representative thanks in part to the realignment which left the league with only six members while it awaits the arrival of Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley next fall.

Wheaton North became one of the first teams to be eliminated Friday with its 14-3 loss at Naperville Central.

The Falcons (2-5, 1-2) had their streak of seven straight playoff appearances snapped.

“I told the guys that the IHSA gives you nine games and you have to earn the 10th and we haven’t earned a 10th,” Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said. “That’s on us.”

The defending Class 8A state champion Redhawks (6-1, 3-0), meanwhile, became the first DVC team to clinch a playoff berth with their sixth win. Kevin Clifford carried the ball 34 times for 170 yards and scored on runs of 2 and 6 yards.

“These guys really push me all week,” Clifford said. “The offensive line does an unbelievable job. They stuck to their assignments. We worked all week mentally focusing and trying to stay away from penalties. We had a few, but we really fought.”

Naperville Central reached the Wheaton North 27-yard line on its first possession, but the drive stalled and Connor Assalley’s 44-yard field goal attempt fell short.

But after forcing a Wheaton North three-and-out, the Redhawks marched 63 yards and took the lead on a 6-yard TD run by Clifford 11 seconds into the second quarter.

Wheaton North got on board the next possession, moving from its own 10-yard line to the Central 7. Nick Cairo capped an 83-yard drive that took 4:22 off the clock with a 24-yard field goal, getting the Falcons within 7-3.

Central had a chance to extend the lead before halftime, reaching the North 12. But a holding call and a sack pushed the Redhawks back to the 17, and Assalley was wide right on a 34-yard field goal attempt.

“We should have put up a lot more than 14 points, but I feel like we had the ball most of the game and our defense was just unbelievable,” Clifford said.

Central extended its lead on its first possession of the second half, moving 85 yards on 11 plays leading to Clifford’s 2-yard TD run. A 39-yard run by Connor Joyce on third down kept the drive alive.

Joyce completed 9 of 15 passes for 115 yards including an 11-yarder to Anthony Petrungaro, to keep the final clock-eating drive alive.

“The biggest thing that separated us this week from last week was that when we needed to throw it we were able to make the plays,” Clifford said.

Sophomore Luke Anthony was 17 of 22 passing for 161 yards for Wheaton North.

“We had some chances, fourth downs, we didn’t convert,” Wardynski said. “They did a good job staying on top and not giving us big plays. We knew we’d have to play great football to get a win. We have two more games at home so I hope we finish the year strong.”

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