Bolingbrook outlasts Naperville Central 22-19 Saturday at Memorial Stadium to advance to the 8A state finals for only the second time in the school’s history.
The Raiders (12-1) will face Loyola (13-0) next Saturday, who beat Glenbard North 28-13. Bolingbrook has never won a state title, losing to Belvidere High School in 1993.
Former Bolingbrook quarterback Greg Williams, who went on to play for North Carolina and now linebackers coach for the San Diego Chargers, was at the game and talked to junior quarterback Aaron Bailey to “finish it for me.”
“It’s a blessing from God to play in state,” said Bailey, who had 199 rushing yards and a winning 60-yard touchdown scamper. “This is not just a state championship for us, but this is for all the Bolingbrook Raiders from 1970s to now.”
Bolingbrook had to win without star linebacker Antonio Morrison, who was on crutches while having a protective boot on his left foot.
The Raiders rotated junior Emile Wisdom and senior Andre Allen to Morrison’s outside linebacker position. Allen had three tackles and Wisdom had a key sack.
“I told a select few people going into the season that this is my best team ever,” Bolingbrook head coach John Ivlow said. “I still stand by this. It’s great for the kids and it’s their moment.”
The game started with Naperville Central (9-4) getting a nice nine-yard touchdown run from senior quarterback Ian Lewandowski for a 7-0 first quarter lead. Naperville Central junior kicker Andrew Asken had a 55-yard punt that put the Raiders on their own 1-yard line, setting up his Redhawks with a short 31-yard field.
“Our guys battled,” Naperville Central head coach Mike Stine said. “That’s a great football team in Bolingbrook. We’ve got the game in the fourth quarter. We had a chance in a semifinal game. That’s what you want. I’m very proud of this senior class and this team overall. It wasn’t by luck that we got this far.”
On a key second-quarter fourth down, there was an illegal block in the back by a Raiders blocker, but it wasn’t called and Bailey made an 11-yard completion to junior wide receiver Chandler Piekarski at the Redhawks’ 4-yardline.
Bolingbrook sophomore running back Jaden Huff then had a 1-yard touchdown by breaking a tackle from Naperville Central senior linebacker John Dullack for the tie.
On third and long in the third, Bailey found Piekarski on a left fade route as he got passed a Redhawk cornerback for a 15-yard touchdown.
Naperville Central senior running back Matt Randolph made an amazing 42-yard touchdown catch to make it 14-13. He had to jump on a streak at the 25 Bolingbrook yardline and had broke a tackle to get the score.
“Our team came together,” said Randolph, who had 90 yards of total offense. “We had to work hard. I’m proud of all our guys.”
Naperville Central junior kicker Tyler Gillen missed the extra point wide left, but Gillen was injured on a roughing the kicker. The Redhawks elected to go for two-point conversion, but the Raiders stopped Randolph just short of the end zone to preserve a 14-13 lead with 6:38 left in the third.
In the fourth, the Raiders were driving to the Naperville’s 20-yardline, but Bailey was sacked twice by Naperville Central and tackled for no-gain on fourth down.
Lewandowski scored a 13-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw on a 3rd-and-7 for a 19-14 Redhawk lead with 9 minutes left. However, Bolingbrook Isaac Jensen stopped Lewandowski on the two-point conversion.
Bailey had a 60-yard touchdown run where he quickly made space for himself really quickly. He also scored the two-point conversion to finish the scoring.
“It’s very difficult to bring Bailey down,” said Matt Moore, a Naperville Central senior linebacker who had three tackles. “He’s a very good back. We were preparing for him all week and we knew he would be their biggest threat. When he pitches the ball, we want to make it wide.”
Bailey had four first down runs on the next drive, which pinned the Redhawks to their own 9-yardline with two minutes left. Bolingbrook’s secondary held Naperville Central to two short passes and forced junior wide receiver Blake Butler to drop a fourth-down pass.
“We can come out of this with our heads held high,” Moore said of playing Bolingbrook tough. “We’ve had a tough few years as freshmen and sophomores and we then we didn’t make the playoffs. I thought our defense did an amazing job. All our work paid off.”