NAPERVILLE – After being shut out by the vaunted Bolingbrook defense in the first half, DuPage Valley champion Naperville Central made a pivotal halftime adjustment.
In a Class 8A first-round playoff game Friday night, Naperville quarterback Conor Joyce switched gears. Joyce, who entered with 1,688 yards and 13 touchdown passes, ran for 79 of his game-high 119 yards after the break.
With 6:05 left, he crashed in from the 3 for the game-winning touchdown as the Redhawks slipped past the Raiders, 14-7.
Facing a Bolingbrook three-man defensive front – designed to stifle the air attack – Joyce took advantage of the open middle. Repeatedly, he ripped off huge gains.
Along with running backs Luke Barry and Jeremiah Wiggins, the Redhawks dominated time of possession in the second half. With two minutes to go in the third quarter, Barry scored on a 4-yard run to tie the game at 7. Central (9-1) held the ball for all but 90 seconds of the third quarter.
Bolingbrook struck first late in the first quarter as senior defensive back Trevon Anderson wrestled a pass away from Iowa-bound receiver Emmanuel Rugamba and went 26 yards for a touchdown.
Repeatedly, the Raiders’ defense turned away the Redhawks in Bolingbrook territory. Joyce completed seven of his first 10 passes for 120 yards in the first half. He finished 11 of 20 for 170 yards and two interceptions
“We played really hard and it really hurts to lose,” Anderson said. “It felt great to get the pick-six, but again, I wish we would have won.”
With 10 seconds left in the half, Central had the ball inside the Raiders’ 1. On fourth-and-goal, defensive linemen Demetrius Crisanto and TJ Lee smothered Wiggins for a 2-yard loss, preserving the 7-0 lead at halftime.
The Raiders ran only 14 plays in the second half. Junior running back Jeremiah Lebron had 58 yards on nine carries, only two carries in the second half. Defensive back Jordan Pringle had an interception in the third quarter and senior linebacker Lucas Warren closed with 10 tackles, two for loss.
With 2:17 left , quarterback Mike Freeze (3 of 11, 51 yards) hit wide receiver Kendall Smith for 39 yards to the Redhawks’ 43. Freeze’s next pass was intercepted and Central ran out the clock.
The All-American career of Bolingbrook linebacker Tuf Borland thus ended. The Ohio State recruit had 17 tackles and two sacks in his final game.
“This really hurts to lose this game,” Borland said. “We played our butts off. The coaches had us well-prepared and we just fell a little short.”
Bolingbrook (5-5) concluded its 29th playoff season, as the stunning win over No. 1-ranked Homewood-Flossmoor last week extended its playoff streak to 24 consecutive years.
“We played hard and lost to a fine team,” Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow said. “Our defense was outstanding, and we just couldn’t get anything going offensively. I say goodbye to a number outstanding seniors on defense who I will miss.”