Username Password Subscribe Now

Naperville Central posts
special win over Loyola Academy

By Ed Muniz

Do special teams win championships?

For the Redhawks of Naperville Central, the answer was a resounding yes.

Facing the Loyola Academy Ramblers for the 2013 IHSA 8A football championship, the Redhawks special teams play was the difference in a 13-10 title game victory Saturday evening at Northern Illinois University.  

Naperville Central won its second state championship and first since 1999. This one wasn't expected. The Redhawks lost three-straight games heading into the playoffs and finished fourth in the Du Page Valley Conference. Last season Naperville Central missed the playoff at 4-5

How special was this win? All of the Redhawks points came as a result of their special teams executing when it mattered most.

Naperville Central (11-3) was twice the recipient of Rambler turnovers deep in Redhawks territory.

After Loyola Academy (12-2) worked its way into the red-zone, the Ramblers coughed up the ball. Central's Dan Dolehide recovered the fumble. Later a Jack Penn pass was picked off near the endzone after the Ramblers once again drove deep into Naperville Central property. Again, Dolehide gathered in the turnover.

Both the fumble and interception led to field goals. Placekicker Connor Assalley connected from 34 and 37 yards for a 6-0 halftime lead.

Statistically, Loyola Academy held an edge on offense and controlled the clock. But both defenses were the stars of the first half.

After halftime, the Ramblers finally broke onto the scoreboard. After an errant Naperville Central snap sailed over the head of punter Ben Andreas and rolled through the endzone for a safety early in the third quarter. That cut the Loyola deficit to 6-2.

Following the safety, the Ramblers drove deep into Naperville Central territory and lined up to attempt a 27-yard field goal with about eight minutes to play. But Naperville Central's special group came up big again. Dillon Grooss charged in from the left edge and blocked the kick, rolled and grabbed the ball which appeared to bounce up just in time for him to cradle it. He sprinted 83 yards for what turned out to be the championship winning play. After the extra point, the Redhawks led 13-2.

“Came off the edge untouched, ball hit me right in the stomach,  took a perfect bounce , picked it up, saw green in front of me, took it all the way to the endzone,” said Grooss.  “It almost seemed too easy. I can’t describe what I am feeling right now. We’ve been talking about this since June. This team, all we talked about was going to state. Finally made it; won the state title.

Loyola Academy went from a possible 6-5 deficit to a 13-2 disadvantage. However, the misfortune seemed to kickstart them. The Ramblers went 75 yards in 2:35 and topped the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Penn to Fran O’Malley with 5. Penn’s 2-point conversion run with 5:30 left closed the score to 13-10 but that was as close as the Ramblers got.

Naperville Central never relinquished the ball afterwards. The Redhawks used the passing and running of quarterback Jake Kolbe and the ballcarrying of Andreas and Kevin Clifford until the last seconds clicked off the scoreboard clock.

“Since October 29 last year, this team has worked and put in the effort to get here, I knew we had a special team then and this is the result,” added head coach Mike Stine.  “I can’t say enough about their commitment and how much they put into this season. I knew all along this was a very special group, I love each and every one of them; they earned it.”

Today's Schedule: Season Schedule