Naperville Central wins on last-second FG

Article: Daily Herald by Orrin Schwarz Sept 19 2014

Connor Assalley had fair warning he would kick the game-winning field goal Friday night for Naperville Central.

When the time came, Assalley was prepared and confident, and his 29-yarder as time expired gave the Redhawks a 10-7 football victory at Wheaton Warrenville South. (cont. below)

“Our coach (Mike Stine) actually said the other day at practice that it could come down to me,” Assalley said. “I didn’t really believe him. I thought maybe we could just keep scoring touchdowns. But it came down to me and everyone did their jobs.”

“That was a great high school football game. That’s all you can say,” Stine added. “I said coming in that was two great defenses playing each other and two offenses that were still trying to figure things out.”

Assalley saw the writing on the wall during the game too. Tigers punter Kevin Domek pinned Naperville Central (3-1) inside its own 1-yard line with 4:46 left in the fourth quarter and the score tied, setting up the long, game-winning march.

“You’re saying somebody’s got to make a play, and you know what,” Stine said. “We’ve been there before, we did it last year. … It was a gut-check game.”

A Conor Joyce pass to Michael Kolzow got the Redhawks out to their 9-yard line, and then they started handing the ball to running back Kevin Clifford. Clifford carried 12 times for 55 yards on that final drive, finishing with 26 carries for 195 yards and the Redhawks’ only touchdown.

“We dream of that, and you notice we were able to just pound it at them and you couldn’t tell if anybody on the field was tired because we were able to stay mentally strong,” Clifford said, crediting the Redhawks’ conditioning.

“Give a lot of credit to them, 99 yards with complete ball control down the field,” Tigers coach Ron Muhitch said. “And credit to their kicker. Just a great job kicking the winning field goal, twice, three times, four times, whatever we tried to do to him. That’s not easy.”

The defending Class 8A champions marched down to the Tigers’ 7-yard line before calling time out with 2.0 seconds to play. A pair of Tigers timeouts and a Redhawks procedure penalty later, Assalley put his kick through the wind and through the uprights.

“Coach Stine just kept giving me the confidence, kept going over the kick with me, and I put it right down the middle,” Assalley said.

“I was just praying it went in,” Clifford added.

The game started well for WW South, which drove 59 yards the first time it touched the football, taking a 7-0 lead on a Michael Campos 1-yard touchdown run.

Naperville Central tied the game on its first drive of the third quarter, Clifford going in from 1 yard out.

The Tigers fell to 1-3 on the season.

“We’re close,” Muhitch said. “We just aren’t getting a third-down play when we need it. Then negative plays are killing us. It’s so hard to understand.”

Follow Orrin on Twitter @Orrin_Schwarz