By Chris Vavra
For the Bugle
When Naperville Central senior running back AJ Deinhart scored on a 53-yard carry to give the Redhawks a 28-13 lead on their opening possession of the second half, it looked like Maine South’s title defense chances were dim, at best. The Redhawks had controlled the tempo in the first half and had burned the Hawks’ defense and special teams on scores for 34, 93, 49, and 53 yards.
Hawks coach David Inserra couldn’t argue with that, but he remained optimistic.
“You look at the clock and see all this time left and we just needed one play to get us going,” he said.
The Hawks, who had struggled in the first half with mistakes and unforced errors—particularly on offense—took advantage of three Redhawks second-half turnovers and other lapses to score 26 unanswered points and rallied to a 39-28 8A quarterfinal win.
“We didn’t panic when we were down,” Inserra said of the team’s turnaround. “We do what we do. We didn’t play our best, but they showed a lot of resiliency.”
The Hawks (11-1) offense got them started in the second half with a solid drive that culminated in a 12-yard touchdown pass to senior running back Fotis Kokosioulis, his second of four scores, to cut the lead down to 28-19. Even with the failed 2-point conversion, it was a step in the right direction against the Redhawks (9-3).
Then the Hawks’ defense stepped up and forced the first of three turnovers with an interception by senior linebacker Andrew Masterson. The Hawks missed the field goal, but they kept the pressure on the Redhawks’ offense—particularly on Deinhart—and forced them into committing two more turnovers and adding six more points on a pair of field goals.
Inserra, though pleased with the turnaround, admitted the six points from three turnovers was a bit uncharacteristic for them. All the same, he saw the benefits.
“We fed off that energy,” he said. “And we told them to keep at it. Don’t get too fancy. Just keep fighting.”
The Hawks carried the momentum on offense and broke through with a 5-yard run by Kokosioulis to give the Hawks a 32-28 lead, their first of the game.
And it was Kokosioulis who delivered the final blow. On 3rd and 20 from the Redhawks’ 35, he found an open seam on the outside and charged right past them for his fourth touchdown of the game and put the game out of reach for good.
“I came up and I saw an opening on the outside. Got some good blocks and I was able to take advantage of my speed,” Kokosioulis said of the play.
It was quite a day for the Northern Illinois-bound senior, who finished with 26 carries for 151 yards and six receptions for 128 yards and two touchdowns from each.
Senior John O’Sullvan was also quite busy on offense, going 31-of-54 passing for 368 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a rushing touchdown in the first half. He had strong command of the Hawks’ hurry-up offense and was able to keep the momentum going for them in the second half.
When asked about the plans for next week, O’Sullivan said, “Brushing up on a lot of things and making sure we’re ready.” He didn’t state a preference for their next opponent in the semifinals, even though it could come with some history if it’s No. 1 seed Lincoln-Way East. The Hawks faced off against the Griffins in week 2 and was handed their only loss in a 28-26 defeat.
Kokosioulis didn’t state a preference, but he did admit there is something special to facing an opponent for a second time.
“We’d love a rematch,” he said. “They did a great job against us and it’s always a lot better the second time around. If it happens, we’ll be ready for it.”