Tiger football starts undefeated

Dylan Budd, Sports Writer

The Tigers football team defeated the Naperville Central Redhawks 19-9 in their home opener on Sept. 2, but not without some late-game drama. 

Both teams came out struggling, as the first half ended with a score of 2-0, Redhawks, after Tiger senior quarterback Demir Ashiru was sacked in his own endzone during the first quarter.

However, the Tigers started clicking in the second quarter, when senior running back John St. Clair contributed to 32 of the team’s 68 yards on the drive. The team drove all the way to the Redhawks’ one-yard line, but St. Clair was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, handing the ball back to Naperville Central.

“[St. Clair] is amazing to watch,” senior cornerback Nigel Green said. “He did everything by himself. He’s a great running back, and we’re super happy he’s on our team.”

The Tigers got the ball back to start the second half, and the offense drove once more. The team clicked until they found themselves on fourth down, needing 20 yards to move the chains. Ashiru threw in the direction of junior tight end Braxton Bartz, who made a smooth adjustment to put the Tigers just three yards from the endzone. 

“We’ve been putting in work since freshman year,” Ashiru said. “We get labeled as the underdog, so it’s great to show what we’re made of.”

Two plays later, St. Clair pushed through the line for a Tiger touchdown. An unsuccessful two-point conversion put North on top, 6-2. The first play of the next drive, however, was an 80-yard Redhawks touchdown, narrowing the score to 9-6, Naperville Central.

North’s offense wasn’t finished, starting their drive with a St. Clair run up the left sideline for 32 yards. The Tigers inched closer and closer, and St. Clair, now on the right sideline, ran 23 yards to the opponent’s 2-yard line to end the third quarter.

The fourth quarter began with Ashiru scoring on a QB sneak, putting the Tigers ahead, 13-9. North’s stout defense caused a Redhawks 3-and-out, and when North got the ball back, they began to run the clock out. Highlights include runs of 8, 10, 13, and 12 from St. Clair.

“I’m trying to start this year at running back,” junior Cameron Morris said. “Looking at John’s game plan, I don’t even know where to start. He can break tackles, he can turn on the jets, he can run through people. There truly is no bad aspect of his game.”

The Tigers then had another fourth down to convert, but the offense couldn’t connect, giving the Redhawks a chance to mount a game-winning drive with three minutes left. Late in the drive, a flag for defensive pass interference was called, putting Naperville Central on North’s 26-yard line.

“The sideline had gotten really antsy,” junior wide receiver Ayden Zbroszczyk said. “It got a little too close for comfort.”

With just under a minute left, the Redhawks, down 13-9, drove into the Tigers’ redzone. Defensive Coordinator Sean Carlson called a zone blitz, sending pressure on their senior quarterback, Chris McCormack.

“We sent 2 linebackers in and showed them a different zone look, and I think that’s what messed them up,” Carlson said. “They had a big play earlier on a man blitz, so we switched it up.”

To counter, the Redhawks called a screen to their wide receiver, but when he was bottled up, McCormack had to heave up a hail Mary.

His prayer, however, went unanswered, as Green undercut the ball at the Tiger 10-yard line and weaved his way through the offense to give North a 10 point lead and put the game away.

“I saw their QB throw the ball, and it came my way,” Green said. “I was able to grab it, and I heard the crowd yelling. From there, I knew I had to take it to the house, and I’m glad I was able to.”

As Green went down the sideline, head coach Anthony Imbordino remembered him as a freshman, and all the work he’s put in since then.

“[Nigel] has worked his tail off for the last three years,” Imbordino said. “When he saw his opportunity, he capitalized on it, and he made a big play for his teammates to end the game.”

“Tonight was awesome,” Carlson said. “With tonight being the home opener and our opponent a team like Naperville Central, it was a good win to have against them, and a big statement game for this program and the history of this program.”

After this win, the Tigers improved their record to 3-0 after beating Joliet West, 48-0, on Sept. 8, but the team has higher aspirations.

“We’ve had a bitter taste in our mouths since last year at Main South,” junior safety Eli Liapis said. “We’d like to win [the conference championship] and get deep into the state playoffs. With a team like this, the sky’s the limit.”

Senior running back John St. Clair fights for extra yardage on a 23-yard run, a highlight from North’s 19-9 win over Naperville Central on Sept. 2. (Nick Powell)