Naperville Central’s defense stands strong, knocks out Homewood-Flossmoor

Naperville Central quarterback Payton Thorne tops the list of the area's best quarterbacks. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.
Naperville Central quarterback Payton Thorne tops the list of the area's best quarterbacks. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

The Naperville Central student section knew that fate of their season depended on two plays. So with less than a minute to play on Friday in Flossmoor the large group ran from one end of the visiting stands down to the other end, figuring they would make all the noise possible to help the Redhawks defense keep the Vikings out of the end zone.

Maybe it was that little bit of support the made the difference, but Naperville Central only needed one play to secure the win.

Homewood-Flossmoor had a third-and-goal from the 9, trailing by three points. Vikings running back Justin Hall received a direct snap. He tossed the ball to quarterback Dominick Jones, who threw the ball up in the air down the right sideline. Naperville Central linebacker Mike Oliver made the play of the game, grabbing the interception to give the Redhawks a 31-28 win in the second round of the Class 8A state playoffs.

“I missed a pick earlier in the game and I knew I had to make up for it somehow,” Oliver said. “So when that ball came up I knew that was my ball to get.

“My first thought was to go after the running back and then I saw him flip it to the quarterback. We saw that reverse motion earlier in the game, that’s why I was a little tentative. I saw the receiver and I made the play I was supposed to make.”

Both offenses were difficult to stop and it seemed as if all the momentum was on the Vikings’ side in the final few minutes.

“I’m at a loss for words a little bit,” Naperville Central quarterback Payton Thorne said. “I was just hoping and praying. I had confidence in [the defense], but what a play by them. They’ve been great all year but that was just a statement.”

Thorne, a junior, was 11-for-18 for 196 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He connected with senior Jayden Reed for a 55-yard and a 24-yard touchdown.

Reed, a Western Michigan recruit, had seven catches for 145 yards.

“He’s a stud,” Thorne said. “You get him the ball and good things are going to happen. Our receivers are all great. It’s a luxury to have guys like that and then the running game like we do. And nothing works without the offensive line.”

Reed also returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

“Jayden could play any position on the field,” Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said. “You should see his arm, he could be quarterback if he wanted to. He’s a special athlete, he makes plays. He’s a great player and he’s equally as good a person. It’s been my pleasure to get to know him the last few months.”

Thorne played a productive, crafty game. He found running back AJ Deinhart with a shovel pass for nine-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that gave the Redhawks (9-2) the lead for good. Deinhart had 14 carries for 82 yards.

Running back Justin Hall, one of the state’s best players, had 34 carries for 158 yards and one touchdown for the Vikings (9-2). He had four receptions for 45 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown catch.

“Give H-F a lot of credit, that was too good football teams going back and forth,” Stine said. “Our kids proved they are battle tested in all phases of the game. We had different guys step up and make plays today.”

Naperville Central will face the Maine South-Warren winner in the quarterfinals next weekend

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