CHAMPAIGN – In its 37-game history, there no doubt have been prettier, more proficiently played games in the Battle of Champaign than Friday's edition at Tommy Stewart Field.
But you can rest assured few, if any, had the drama and unpredictability of the latest one.
Centennial, stymied on offense for nearly the entire second half, scored with 1:02 remaining – and converted a two-point conversion – to force overtime, then won it in the first extra session, 27-21, to keep the Chargers' postseason hopes alive.
"They live off big plays," said Centennial quarterback Jake Chesnut, whose 3-yard run on a naked bootleg put his team ahead in OT, of Central. "They probably outskilled us, but we fought harder than anybody out here tonight."
Centennial (4-4) must win at Normal West next Friday to become playoff eligible. Five wins doesn't assure an automatic berth, but the Chargers likely will get in if they can beat the Wildcats.
Central (4-4), meanwhile, has a much tougher chore. To obtain their third straight playoff appearance the Maroons must beat Normal Community (6-2) next Friday at home.
The Chargers survived a shaky second half, failing to get a first down until their final drive. Running back Shaquille Traylor, who gained 169 yards in the first half, was stymied by a dogged Central defense. But the Chargers pulled even when it mattered most.
Starting at the Central 29 with 2:57 left, Traylor led the way, scooting to the end zone from 10 yards out to pull within 21-19 at the 1:02 mark. Then, on the two-point conversion play, Chesnut faked to his running back and threw to a wide-open Josh Cocagne to tie it.
In the overtime, Chesnut took it himself for a six-point lead, but the extra-point kick was wide; Centennial's regular kicker, the reliable Jake Schilling, broke his leg in last week's win against Mattoon.
The Chargers made sure it didn't matter, stopping Central on four plays from the 10-yard line. On third down, quarterback Doug Kyrouac overthrew a wide-open Reggie Walker at the back of the end zone, and a fourth-down pass also went incomplete, setting off a wild celebration at midfield among the Chargers and their fans.
"We were so confident we could pull this off," Traylor said. "If we didn't make a play it meant we wouldn't go to the playoffs and we'd come up short again against Central. But the defense stepped up and made it happen."
Stewart finished with 210 yards rushing, including TDs of 76 yards (on the game's second play) and 50 yards. Traylor had 226 yards, including three scores. The pair accounted for nearly all of the offense. The game featured more punts (18) than first downs (17).
Centennial's win evened the all-time series at 18-18-1.