Naperville Central leaps past Warren

Some of his vertical is just natural ability.

But Naperville Central senior wide receiver Emmanuel Rugamba also works at his “ups.”

“It's something that me and my brothers would always do,” Rugamba said. “We'd always have competitions about how high we could go up and get the ball and how high we could get over one another.

“Coming out (on the football field), it just feels natural to go up and get the ball. The vertical jump is really important.”

Rugamba put his vertical jump on full display Friday night in Naperville Central's 49-28 Class 8A second-round playoff victory over Warren in Gurnee.

An Iowa recruit, Rugamba opened the floodgates when he skyed for a high-arcing pass from quarterback Conor Joyce on Naperville Central's first play from scrimmage. If he were on a basketball court, Rugamba would have been more than high enough to dunk the ball as he hauled in Joyce's 45-yard pass that put him about 15 yards from the end zone.

Two plays later, teammate Luke Brady ran in a 2-yard touchdown and that set into motion a 42-point first-half for the Redhawks.

No. 6 Naperville Central (10-1) advances to the quarterfinals to play the winner of Saturday's matchup between No. 30 Waubonsie Valley (6-4) and No. 19 Neuqua Valley (7-3).

No. 22 Warren ends its season at 6-5.

“Usually when you throw it up in the air, Manny's going to do good things with it,” said Joyce, who threw 5 passes to Rugamba for 136 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown. “I've been playing with him since eighth grade and he doesn't even amaze me anymore. People seem amazed by these plays, but I just laugh and give him a hug because I know how good of a player he is. I know when teams one-on-one coverage him, he's going to make them pay.

“He's really good at jumping. He dunks in basketball.”

Rugamba, who has a 37-inch vertical, is a guard on the basketball team who isn't afraid to mix it up with the bigs because of his leaping ability.

“A few (football coaches) came to see me play basketball and then offered me (a scholarship) after that,” Rugamba said. “I know Iowa liked (the jumping ability). These days, recruiting is a lot of potential. If they see a guy who can run, jump and has good hand-eye coordination, there's a lot of things you can mold them into in college football.”

Before halftime, Naperville Central had scored a total of six touchdowns, 3 by Joyce on the ground. Joyce, who finished with 23 rushing yards, got the bulk of his yardage in the air. He completed 9-of-13 passes for 193 yards.

Brady led Naperville Central in rushing with 68 yards on 11 carries while both Matt Lehmann and Jeremiah Wiggins each finished with 67 rushing yards.

Warren's big rusher was senior running back Darrius Crump, who rolled up 132 yards on 28 carries. He also scored Warren's first touchdowns, a 5-yard run that cut the deficit to 21-7 with 9:29 to play in the second quarter.

Senior utility man Jalen Powe brought Warren to within a couple of scores when he ran a kickoff back 94 yards for a touchdown with 2:02 left in the second quarter. That made the Naperville Central lead 28-13.

But the Redhawks scored 2 touchdowns in the final 1:27 of the half (Rugamba's 30-yard touchdown catch and a 35-yard interception for a touchdown by Jon Barker) to take a commanding 42-13 lead into the locker room.

Warren won the second half 15-7 but it was too little, too late.

“We dug ourselves a hole,” said Powe, who also scored a third-quarter touchdown for Warren on a 1-yard run. “We just had a slow start. We weren't ready for them. We could have prepared way better.

“We tried to dig ourselves out of that hole after halftime, but came up short. I thought (after the kickoff return) we were going to turn it around, but that didn't work out. They just had too many good players.”

Images: Warren falls to Naperville Central, 49-28 in football

  Naperville Central's Luke Brady breaks free on a long run in the first half against host Warren in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs Friday. Bob Chwedyk/
  Warren's Jalen Powe runs back a kick for a first-half TD against visiting Naperville Central on Friday. Bob Chwedyk/
  Naperville Central's Emmanuel Rugamba reaches for the goal line on a diving touchdown catch in the first half against host Warren on Friday. Bob Chwedyk/
  Darrius Crump of Warren crosses the goal line for a first-half touchdown against visiting Naperville Central. Bob Chwedyk/
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