WW South defense stands tall, hands Naperville Central first loss

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Here’s how much Wheaton Warrenville South respected Naperville Central’s high-flying offense:

The Tigers put in a brand-new defensive package for their Week 6 meeting with the Redhawks.

Apparently those Tigers are quick learners.

Wheaton South set the tone by forcing turnovers on Naperville’s first two possessions and gutted out a 14-7 win Friday night in Wheaton to get back on track in the rugged DuPage Valley Conference race.

Ryan Graham and Isaiah Campos ran for touchdowns as No. 21 WW South (5-1, 3-1 DVC) bounced back from a loss to Naperville North. No. 5 Naperville Central (5-1, 3-1) fell into a three-way tie for second with the Tigers and Wheaton North, a game behind Glenbard North.

This win was built on a defensive effort that held quarterback Jake Kolbe and the Redhawks to 243 yards. Kolbe was 11-for-25 passing for 145 yards with an interception and a lost fumble.

Naperville Central managed 98 rushing yards on 31 carries against a Tigers defense that used four linebackers.

“We knew they could pass the ball around,” said linebacker Joe Machalek, who finished with 17 tackles. “We respect them, we respect their quarterback.”

But Kolbe and the Redhawks were fighting uphill the whole first half, not running a single play in WW South territory. Credit part of that to the Tigers controlling field position thanks to kicker Evan Jakubowski and credit the rest to that defense.

“Some of the things we like to do, they took those away,” Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said. “We’ve been able to stay away from turnovers all year and we had those two early turnovers, which kept us in bad field position.”

For all that, Naperville was down just 7-0 at halftime, thanks to a gritty defensive effort of its own keyed by linebacker Jack Wooldridge.

WW South’s lone score came on Campos’ two-yard run with 3:55 left in the half. It was set up by Keishawn Watson’s 45-yard punt return to the Naperville Central 20.

The Tigers might have had a bigger edge had they not passed up a chance to try a 35-yard field goal on their first possession, a decision coach Ron Muhitch regretted later.

But it wound up not mattering, even though the Redhawks tied it on Kolbe’s one-yard sneak on fourth down on the last play of the third period.

WW South got the go-ahead touchdown on Graham’s seven-yard run with 2:45 left in the game.

A key sack by Mocha Uchiyama on Naperville Central’s next possession gave the Tigers some breathing room and a last-gasp Redhawks drive came up short.

Now WW South is back in the DVC race, with a Week 8 game at Glenbard North looming large.

“People were doubting us after that [Naperville North] loss,” Machalek said. “We ignored all that stuff. We just focused on this game.”

Naperville Central still has dates with Glenbard North, Wheaton North and crosstown rival Naperville North left.

“We do control our own destiny,” Stine said. “I don’t think they’re thinking about that. This has to set in. You learn about yourself when you deal with adversity and we’re dealing with a little right now.”

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