Naperville Central’s Kevin Clifford hangs loss on Naperville North

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Kevin Clifford wanted the ball.

The Naperville Central senior running back got it often on a night when scoring was difficult but controlling possessions was key as the Redhawks won their fifth straight game with a 27-6 victory Friday over Naperville North at North Central College in Naperville.

Clifford rushed for 256 yards on 31 carries.

“I’ve been working on being more patient and trusting the guys up front to let the holes develop,” Clifford said. “They did a great job and we surprised them, I think, by running out of the [shotgun] a little bit.”

Naperville Central (5-1, 2-0) enjoyed a 10-0 lead at halftime thanks to a 25-yard field goal from Connor Assalley late in the first quarter and a 1-yard touchdown run from Clifford on the first play of the second quarter.

“We felt pretty good but we thought we could’ve done more,” Clifford said. “Credit to our defense for getting the ball back to us and giving us a chance to do more.”

Naperville North (2-4, 0-2) moved the ball at times, but was devastated by turnovers, throwing four interceptions.

“Our kids hung in there but those guys also made some plays,” Huskies coach Sean Drendel said. “Credit to them. They’re a very good team that’s riding a big high right now. We’ve been there before and our kids aren’t done yet. They’re still willing to fight. Our playoffs begin next week.”

Connor Joyce extended Naperville Central’s lead to 17-0 midway through the third quarter with a 1-yard TD run. That possession was set up after a Naperville Central punt made contact with a Naperville North player to give the Redhawks possession on the Naperville North 32-yard line.

The Huskies finally got on the scoreboard with 1:24 remaining in the third quarter when Chris Gajcak lofted a 6-yard TD pass to Matt Herring on a fourth-down play. They were unable to make the 2-point conversion and trailed 24-6.

Assalley booted a 33-yard field goal to extend Naperville Central’s lead to 27-6 with 5:24 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the Huskies were unable to challenge the rest of the game.

Naperville Central defensive back Garrett Purdy had a night he’ll never forget as he snagged three interceptions, with the Redhawks applying the pressure throughout the game.

“We feel like we can force teams to make mistakes with our pressure,” Purdy said. “We’ve been playing very well lately and when we force teams to make mistakes like this, we feel we have pretty good odds that we’ll win.”

Which they did in convincing fashion on Friday.

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