No AJ Henning, but Lincoln-Way East rolls past Naperville Central

Lincoln-Way East's Devon Williams (21) keeps his balance and scores. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.
Lincoln-Way East's Devon Williams (21) keeps his balance and scores. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.

Lincoln-Way East had a lot to say about how fast and strong and healthy running back AJ Henning was in the preseason. He had hip surgery in January.

The junior is one of the state’s star attractions. He was tremendous in the Class 8A state title game in November and has more than two dozen scholarship offers.

When Henning didn’t play in Week 1 against Crete-Monee all the speculation began. He wasn’t on the field Saturday against Naperville Central either.

“It is day to day, week to week,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. “It is close. Had this been the playoffs he would have been playing today. If he wasn’t an All-American with 25 Division I offers and a future in this game he’d have been playing. We are just looking at the big picture. He’s going to go on and have a great year. It won’t be more than another week or two and you will see him out there.”

While all the talk is about who isn’t playing for No. 1 Lincoln-Way East, the guys actually on the field are off to a tremendous start. The Griffins knocked off No. 14 Naperville Central 38-19 on Saturday in Frankfort.

Henning’s replacement, junior Devon Williams, more than carried the load. He had 18 carries for 127 yards and three touchdowns.

Quarterback Jack Baltz was 17 of 29 for 234 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

“We fought through some adversity,” Baltz said. “Our guys stepped up and we started making plays. Basically we just found out what their weaknesses were and we started going after them.”

The Griffins (2-0) trailed 13-3 in the second quarter.

“We’re still a little slow out of the gate,” Zvonar said. “To come out with a rather convincing victory against one of the best teams in the state with Henning not quite back yet is a pretty special effort.”

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Matt Judd had eight receptions for 110 yards for Lincoln-Way East and Chase Anderson had touchdown catches of 31 and 15 yards.

Naperville Central (0-2) wasn’t able to get much going on the ground, so star quarterback Payton Thorne was responsible for the bulk of the offense. The Western Michigan recruit was 26 of 48 passing for 312 yards. He threw three touchdowns and four interceptions.

“Thorne is awful good when he gets in a rhythm,” Zvonar said. “We just hung in there, bent quite a bit and didn’t break too much.”

Lincoln-Way East’s Kenny Palmer grabbed two of the interceptions. Jake Tomczak and Gus Christensen each caught one.

“The key was just staying on your guy and not letting anybody get behind you,” Palmer said. “There were a few mess ups but then we came back and fixed it. The defensive line just gets it done so if we play our coverages everything is good.”

Thorne’s two favorite targets were sophomore Samuel Jackson and senior Cade McDonald. Jackson had 12 catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns and McDonald caught nine passes for 137 yards and one touchdown.

“We’ve been pretty stout against the run so they have to try to attack in the air,” Zvonar said. “You have to accept that you aren’t going to shut them down every play. Our defense wasn’t great all day but they showed great perseverance.

“We aren’t near where we could be. If we continue improve it could get to a pretty scary level.”

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