Jeff Davis, Sports Editor | Hinsdale Doings | Published November 2, 2006
The Hinsdale Central football team hadn’t beaten a team with a winning record during the regular season, but that didn’t seem to matter to junior linebacker Chase Culbertson and his teammates for the playoffs.
They feel it’s their time to shine.
The Red Devils (6-4), the 15th seed in their Class 8A playoff bracket, showed as much by upsetting No. 2 seed Neuqua Valley 11-7 Friday in a first-round game in Naperville, snapping an eight-game winning streak by the Wildcats (8-2).
“It proves that even though things haven’t been clicking during the season, we still have the tradition and we know how to win in the postseason,” Culbertson said of the Red Devils reaching the state semifinals twice and quarterfinals twice in the last four seasons. “And we want to show everybody that thinks we’re just a mediocre 5-4 team that we can go deep in the playoffs.”
Hinsdale Central plays host to No. 7 seed Naperville Central (7-3) at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, in the second round.
Neuqua Valley, which won back-to-back Upstate Eight Conference titles, lost in the first round of the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years. The Wildcats had finished 6-1 against playoff teams this season, but four had 5-4 records.
“We knew we could beat these guys,” Hinsdale Central senior linebacker Matt Kajmowicz said. “They haven’t played anybody that has as tough a conference as us. I’m not surprised. If we come out hard, we can beat anybody. It’s just a matter if we can get running.”
The Red Devils did that, scoring on their first two possessions on Clayton Passero’s 82-yard run and Sean Lacy’s 26-yard field goal for a 9-0 lead. They controlled the ball well on offense for an efficient 253 total yards, led by junior running back Billy Auriemma’s 100 yards on 23 carries. While Hinsdale Central ran 84 fewer plays and had 107 more penalty yards than its opponents during the regular season, the Red Devils ran 57 plays to Neuqua’s 42, won the time of possession battle 28:47 to 19:13 and had no penalties.
Culbertson and Kajmowicz, meanwhile, helped lead a blitzing defense that limited a Neuqua offense that was averaging 33 points and 313 yards to only 167 total yards. And 80 of those yards came on the Wildcats’ lone scoring drive capped by Titus Wonsley’s 2-yard touchdown run that cut the gap to 9-7 with 1 minute, 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Red Devils allowed only 13 total yards on Neuqua’s next seven possessions before the Wildcats made things interesting on their final drive, using a 35-yard run, 32-yard hook-and-ladder play and 23-yard pass to reach the Red Devils’ 24-yard line with 21.2 seconds left. But, after spiking the ball, Neuqua quarterback Nick Rafferty was sacked by Culbertson for a 17-yard loss and the clock ran out.
Rafferty was sacked six times for minus-57 yards, including five times in the fourth quarter after he had been sacked only 14 times all season. The Red Devils also forced two fumbles and added a fourth-quarter safety with 4:34 to play when Neuqua punter Matt McGilliard fumbled and then, under heavy pressure from the Red Devils’ Charlie Johnston, threw the ball out of the end zone.
“Our defense has been doing that all year long,” Hinsdale Central coach Mike DiMatteo said. “We were able to couple that today with our offense being able to control the ball like we want, having big plays when we need them. Against a team like this, we knew we had to keep their offense off the field.
“Hopefully it took some pressure off the defense. We’ve been saying for the last few weeks, people can’t see it, but (the offense is) starting to come together.”
Hinsdale Central’s defense held Neuqua Valley running back Anton Wilkins to 52 yards on 14 carries. Wilkins came into the game with 1,007 yards and 17 TDs with a 5.6-yard per carry average.
“Our defense just doesn’t get scared of anybody,” Kajmowicz said. “We’re a real fast squad. We can catch anybody. We can beat anybody.” Kajmowicz and Jon Rogowski (8 tackles, 2 sacks apiece), Jack DiNardo (6
tackles, sack), J.T. Sandstedt (forced fumble and recovery, 5 tackles), Wes Berger (fumble recovery), Culbertson (2 sacks, 4 tackles) and Jeff Petree and Nick Chenier (5 tackles apiece) were defensive leaders.
“We just brought the pressure,” Culbertson said. “(Defensive) Coach (Chad) Hetlet doesn’t shy away from getting guys in there and making sure the quarterback knows that we’re coming for him and he’s going to be hit.” On the Red Devils’ second offensive play, the 5-foot-7 Passero (99 yards, 6 carries) came around the left end to take an option pitch from quarterback Zach Leathers and broke into the open for his 82-yard TD run for a 6-0 lead. “They weren’t expecting a pitch so we caught them by surprise,” Passero said. “Zach threw a perfect pitch, there was one guy in front of me, all I saw was (running back) Steve Morris wiping across so I cut it up and took it in.
“It was huge (to score early) because everyone expected us to go down today.”
Hinsdale Central took advantage of a 22-yard punt to the Neuqua 38 on its next series for Lacy’s 26-yard field goal. The drive was kept alive by Auriemma’s 7-yard run on third-and-six and Passero’s 9-yard gain on third-and-four. Both running backs credited the line of Ben Schultz, Robert Mains, Kevin Cruwys, Tim Curran, Alex Nelson and tight end DiNardo. Hinsdale Central squandered another scoring chance just before halftime after Sandstedt had stripped fullback Joe Antonacci a la Brian Urlacher at the Neuqua 27. Auriemma was stopped twice at the Wildcats’ 1.
“I should have scored, but we persevered. We came back,” said Auriemma, who helped his team come back from a third-quarter fumble at Neuqua’s 23 for a key fourth-quarter drive that consumed 5:28. “Any time something didn’t go our way we basically just forgot about it and came back, and that’s the first time that’s happened this year. Usually when something goes bad, we kind of hang our heads and let it get to us.”
Copyright © 2006, The Doings