CHAMPAIGN — The winning coach got dumped with two coolers of Gatorade after the game and his players were presented a trophy as a few dozen students lined the track in celebration.
If the season couldn't end in the postseason for Champaign Central, this was the way the Maroons wanted to go out. Central jumped out to a 24-12 halftime lead on archrival Centennial in the first half and fought off a late charge to claim a 24-19 win Friday night at Tommy Stewart Field.
"You can't explain it. You can't express it in words. Our kids wanted it. It's a crosstown rivalry, they grew up with these kids, they played with these kids and it's about the bragging rights," Central coach Ira Jefferson said. "We knew we couldn't go to the playoffs, we knew they couldn't go to the playoffs, so this was our playoff game right here."
The Maroons, who beat Urbana in Week 2, clinched the Twin City title with Friday's victory. The players celebrated with the Twin City trophy at midfield as their student section chanted "This is our house" on the field they share with Centennial.
"Everybody wanted to go to the playoffs, but once we realized we couldn't go ... we realized if we got this one we're Twin City champs even though we ended up 4-5," Jefferson said. "To me, they're still champs. It's ours for a year and we're gonna take it."
If the Maroons are looking for one person to thank for the championship, they need look no further than Jamir Stovall. The senior caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the closing seconds of the win against Urbana in Week 2, and he produced enough highlights against the Chargers on Friday to produce his own show.
After the Chargers took a 6-0 lead on a Zach McCoy 5-yard touchdown run on the game's first possession, Stovall hauled in a strike from quarterback Mitchell Baker (10 for 18, 230 yards, two TDs, two INTs) for a 49-yard touchdown on the Maroons' first play from scrimmage. In all, Stovall caught six passes for 139 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown pass from Baker in the second quarter to give the Maroons a 24-12 advantage.
"He's been doing it all year," Jefferson said. "If you look at his stats, at one time he had five consecutive games with a TD catch and tonight he just came out and played. That's a (tribute) to him. He was hurt early and he made some big-time catches tonight and that's just him going up wanting it more than the (defender) did."
Stovall came out of nowhere to catch a 20-yard third-down pass in the fourth quarter to keep a drive alive, and on an 11-yarder later in that same drive he broke three Centennial tackles while securing a first down as the student section chanted "You can't stop him."
"I just wanted to come out, go out with a bang. This is my last year, my last game, and I couldn't go out with a bad game," Stovall said. "They've been talking (trash) and we just wanted to get the win. That's all I wanted, I didn't care about the stats."
Central's other touchdown came on a 21-yard halfback pass from Brad Wright (17 carries, 76 yards) to a diving Clark Browning. Cameron Miller drilled a 34-yard field goal in the first quarter for the Maroons.
McCoy (22 carries, 107 yards) scored from 5 yards out in the third quarter to bring the Chargers (1-8) to within five. Quarterback Taylen Alexander (12 for 22, 108 yards) hit Dustin Walls with a 31-yard TD pass in the second quarter.
It was the first time since 1993 that the Chargers, who have battled injuries all season, failed to win at least three games.
"They did a great job and we had some guys back, we don't have everybody, but we had a few of them and they played their hearts out," Centennial coach Mike McDonnell said. "We just turned the ball over too much."
The Central defense recovered four Centennial fumbles. Linebackers Noah Lessaris and Toby Rivera led the way with 11 tackles each. Stovall had seven.
Centennial's Jalen Alexander had two interceptions.