Naperville North turns up defense to stun No. 2 Naperville Central

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Naperville North had three shots.

The Huskies needed only two.

Chris Ensign scored 37 seconds into the game, Martin Li added a second-half goal and host Naperville North withstood a furious rally to stun No. 2 Naperville Central 2-1 on Tuesday night.

It was merely the latest chapter in a storied crosstown rivalry that has featured some thrilling upsets. Naperville Central (7-1-2, 1-1 DuPage Valley) came in unbeaten while the Huskies (5-4-1, 1-0-1) had won just once in their last five games, but records mean nothing when these teams meet.

“You’ve got to go into every game confident,” Ensign said. “You want to say, ‘yes, we’re going to win this game,’ but then again, no one wants to be too confident and then lose it. But we knew what we needed to get done.”

The Huskies wasted no time in getting it done, getting the ball to Chris Sullivan in the right corner. Sullivan got around the Central defense and sent a cross that deflected off North’s Connor McBride and went straight to Ensign, who buried a seven-yard shot.

“[That was] very unexpected but there’s nothing better than that,” Ensign said. “We were definitely the underdogs of the game coming in and then [the goal was] just a complete momentum changer and we came out and stuck it to them the entire game. It was definitely a team effort.”

Ensign was the trigger man on North’s second goal, which was a result of a great individual effort by Li. Ensign’s throw-in from the right wing bounced through the crease to a Naperville Central defender just outside the left post.

The defender had possession but Li stole it from him just three yards from the goal and blasted a shot into the roof of the net for a 2-0 lead with 32:13 remaining. It was Li’s second goal of the season and easily the most memorable of his career.

“He was trying to dribble to the sideline or something,” Li said. “I think it was a bad decision on his part, but I just took the ball and since I was so close, you just blast it at the goal. It’s all you can do.

“Against a crosstown rival, that’s insane. It’s like a dream come true.”

After that, North’s back line of Brandon Hipp, Kevin Keane, Matty Sylvester and Wesley Wong had a busy time keeping the Redhawks’ powerful offense at bay. They held Central to just eight shots, including five after intermission.

Daniel Poole pulled the Redhawks within 2-1 with 17:44 remaining when he intercepted a high-arcing clearing attempt in the penalty area and rolled a 12-yard shot through traffic and inside the left post.

Central nearly tied it at the 9:20 mark but Jordi Heeneman’s 33-yard free kick hit the top of the crossbar and went over the net. Heeneman was his usual dangerous self but was held to four shots.

“Those back four were absolutely insane tonight and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Ensign said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen them play a better game.”

In contrast, it has been a long time since Naperville Central coach Troy Adams has seen his offense struggle as much as it has lately. The Redhawks were shut out for the first time in 57 games in Saturday’s 0-0 tie with Lemont.

“What it boils down to essentially is we have not been ready to play at the beginning of the game the last couple games,” Adams said. “[The Huskies] worked harder than we did. That’s why they won.”

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