By Scott Taylor
For the Enterprise
When Plainfield North broke through to win its first playoff game, the Tigers celebrated but felt they could do much more.
And they have.
The No. 16 seed Tigers (10-2) became the first team in District 202 history to advance to the state semifinals with a 30-7 win over No. 8 Rockford Auburn (10-2).
“We try to prepare for every game like it was our last and we never take another team lightly, that is for sure,” North senior linebacker Will Stoll said. “We play well together. I think we are better off as a team than everyone trying to play on their own. We definitely prepared the best we could for this game.”
In its three games, Plainfield North has outscored its playoff opponents 91-27.
“I’m just so happy for our kids, our program and our school,” North coach Tim Kane said. “It is great to see us continue to do this. We lost some close games early on and it is good to see us take that next step.”
“This is incredible,” North defensive end Tim Donnahue said. “This is the goal, but now we are working on a bigger goal.”
While the offense was unstoppable in North’s win over Bradley-Bourbonnais, this game belonged to the defense.
The Knights could never muster a serious threat as they penetrated the North side of the field just once and they lost a fumble.
Their lone touchdown came after a Plainfield North fumble on a punt in the third quarter, leaving them a 20-yard drive, where they scored on fourth-and-six from the 16.
“They had a little drive in the first quarter, but for the most part we shut them down,” Kane said. “Our defense made some huge stops for us. After they got some momentum, we were able to get some three-and-outs.”
Dillon McCarthy opened the scoring for the Tigers midway through the first quarter on a 5-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.
North added to its lead in the second quarter on a beautiful throw-and-catch from Brady Miller to Ryan Krzystofiak to make it 14-0.
The Tigers threw a pick in the red zone on their next possession, but got the ball back and converted on a 23-yard Connor Peplow field goal for a 17-0 lead at the half.
“When the offense goes out there and kicks butt, it fires up our offense,” Stoll said. “It is almost like a competition between the offense and the defense as to who is going to get the bigger plays.”
After the Auburn touchdown and a couple of punts, North drove deep in Auburn territory, but was stuffed on fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter.
But the Tigers got the ball right back and took advantage of a 16-yard run from Brady Miller on fourth down and this time converted in the red zone on a Tyler Hoosman 1-yard touchdown run for a 23-7 lead.
“Brady made some really big plays for us on third-and-fourth down,” Kane said. “We hadn’t planned for it, but he found some openings.”
Hoosman closed the scoring with a 2-yard run late in the fourth quarter as the Tigers eventually wore down the mammoth defensive line from Auburn.
“We had to do something to wear them out,” Kane said. “There wasn’t much room there in the middle. They played better than we were anticipating. But we kept mixing it up and we were able to get some drives and wear them down.”
A big key to the game was North being able to shut down the read option and the scrambling of Auburn quarterback Nathan Jarrett. It helped to have faced the potent Bradley quarterback the week before.
“I think it helped to see the quarterback last week,” Kane said. “The kid from Bradley is a great player and really elusive. This kid was very good, but not as fast and elusive. We talked about it this week to not let him scramble around and get some sacks and for the most part I thought we did better.”
“We prepared all week to get their offense down and we know what to do and have executed well all year,” Donahue said. “We definitely worked on bracketing the quarterback this week and we did a really good job today.”
The defense all year and for the past three years has been anchored by Stoll and JJ Frey and both shined in the win.
“It just brings experience to the table,” said Frey about him and Stoll. “Our D-line played amazing today with how big their offensive line was. Our linebackers didn’t have to worry about getting hit by their big line too much because our D-line took care of them.”
“They are three-year starters and we feel they are the two best linebackers around,” Kane said. “They are disciplined and make so many plays for us. I don’t think they get enough credit around the area. We’re certainly glad they are on our team, that’s for sure.”
A bit of a motivating factor as well is the press the Portz brothers have gotten at Plainfield South the past couple years, culminating in Jake Portz being named the Southwest Prairie Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
“It’s always a motivation,” Frey said. “I played back with them in little league, so I know all about them and they are great players. I give them a lot of respect. But I like to think we are just as good, if not better.”
The Tigers will now travel to Fenwick to take on the No. 4 seed Friars Saturday in hopes of advancing to the state championship game at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
“Confidence is a big thing, but we’re going to stay humble and we know it is not going to be a cake walk,” Stoll said. “We’re going to be working hard to try and get the next win for sure.”