Naperville Central's defense stout vs. Hinsdale Central

It was indeed opening night, but it's hard to imagine the Naperville Central defense can get a whole lot better than it played at Hinsdale Central.

The Redhawks picked off a pair of passes, recorded a game-saving stop late, and blanked the Red Devils in the second half to prevail 14-10 in Friday's season-opening nonconference battle. Naperville Central's defensive line was solid, the linebackers were flying around and the secondary made things difficult for Hinsdale Central sophomore quarterback Riley Contreras, who was often in hot pursuit and who seldom could spot an open receiver.

"Our defensive line was really good today, and at the half our leaders made sure to remind us of why we worked so hard in the off-season," said safety Gavin Wade, who had a leaping interception in the first half before giving the offense a spark with some big runs in the second half.

After Wade's interception stopped the Red Devils' opening drive and led the way to a 1-yard touchdown on a keeper by Jack Cook, the home team answered with a 4-yard touchdown run from Joe Morrissey to make it a 7-7 game after one quarter. Morrissey led all rushers with 73 yards on 21 carries against Naperville Central's stout defense.

The Red Devils then took a 10-7 lead on a 41-yard field goal by Ardit Abdullai with 1:37 left in the opening half, but Hinsdale Central did not score again.

With starting tailback Nicholas Zbylut limited to 3 carries before a foot injury, Aiden Clark, Jude Sutherland and Wade picked up the load in the second half for Naperville Central. The trio combined to rush for 112 yards, with 55 coming from Wade and Sutherland scoring what proved to be the game-winning touchdown - a 4-yard run in the third quarter that seemed to take forever. He was swarmed by the Red Devils defense but just kept plugging away and getting assistance from his lineman before reaching the end zone.

"Give credit to Hinsdale Central. They made it hard on us. It's always hard to score against them," Redhawks coach Mike Ulreich said. "The second half was the team we want to be."

Linebacker Aaron Nussbaum, who knows his standout defensive line makes his job easier, was happy to open the campaign with a tough victory.

"We've got one heck of a DL," the junior said. "We have a couple great guys back from last year and Jason Figg just stepped in at nose and he was great."

Red Devils coach Brian Griffin, who started three sophomores on offense, knows the film will indicate several areas that need improvement but also will show a number of bright spots.

His team didn't play its best yet had a chance to win at the end against a solid opponent.

"We never felt out of it and the kids kept battling," he said. "We made some mistakes against a pretty good football team and we still had a fourth-and-5 (at the Redhawks 14)at the end of the game with a chance to win."

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