Lincoln-Way North and Lincoln-Way Central have staged some classic battles on the football field during their rivalry’s brief existence.
However, Friday’s first-place showdown in the SouthWest Suburban Red might have taken the cake.
North led 23-7 late in the third quarter before Central rallied to close to within three points on separate occasions.
The Phoenix, though, behind a brilliant performance by running back Jaylen Branch and receiver Kyle Ostrowski, held off the Knights 30-27 in Frankfort.
Branch carried the ball 27 times for 177 yards and scored on runs of 42, 3 and 3 yards.
“It was two good teams going to battle,” said Branch, a junior. “It’s a great rivalry. A lot of fun.”
Central (4-2, 3-1) struck on the first series of the game, stringing together an impressive 13-play, 76-yard drive that culminated with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Connor Campbell to Jared Redder. Brock Brohe added the point-after kick for a 7-0 lead at 7:51 of the first quarter.
North (6-0, 4-0) responded on the ensuing possession. Quarterback Ryan Arthur completed four long passes, covering 23, 24, 23 and 23 yards, to key the scoring drive. The final 23-yard toss landed in the arms of Jake Hradek and cut the deficit to 7-6 at 4:12 of the first quarter. The PAT failed.
The Phoenix took the lead at 4:11 of the second quarter when Branch scooted 42 yards for a 13-7 lead after Niko Mavrogiannis’ point-after kick.
“I have to thank my line or blocking,” Branch said. “I just got a good read on that first touchdown.”
Central running back Sean Studer, the area’s leading rusher, had a magnificent night. The senior had 199 yards on 34 carries.
After Campbell hit Mark Bechtold with a 72-yard bomb that cut the deficit to 23-13, Studer scored from 16 yards out to cut the gap to 23-20 entering the fourth quarter.
North expanded its lead to 30-20 on a 3-yard TD run by Branch with 9:45 to go, but Studer countered with a 53-yard jaunt that made it 30-27 at the 8:14 mark.
“Sean has become a force,” Central coach Hud Venerable said. “I like it when a kid has his best season his senior year. Sean is doing that.”
Campbell finished 9-for-22 for 178 yards for the Knights. Arthur had a strong game for North, completing 11 of 24 passes for 270 yards. He hooked up with Ostrowski on five catches, most in spectacular fashion, for 107 yards.
Jimmy Vallos recovered two fumbles for the Phoenix.
“It’s always a close game with Central,” North coach George Czart said. “We had a tough time stopping their running game. We made a few mistakes we have to correct. They did a nice job of not letting us run away with it.”