CHAMPAIGN — They were as one-dimensional as could be on offense and had a hard time hanging on to the football.
That didn’t prevent the Champaign Central Maroons, however, from reclaiming the Wright Street trophy from Urbana on Friday night in a rivalry game that wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
Trailing by seven late in the fourth quarter, the Maroons again turned to a reliable running game to pull out a tense 21-20 victory at Tommy Stewart Field, snapping a 10-game losing streak.
“I’m just so proud of our kids after Urbana had all the momentum,” Central coach Nate Albaugh said. “To come back on just a tough drive — throwing the ball zero times, running it in (for the touchdown) and running it for a two-point conversion, I couldn’t be prouder of the Maroons right now.”
Central (1-1) attempted one pass all game and committed six fumbles, the last of which gave Urbana its first and only lead of the game.
Tigers defender Jalen Jones returned a fumbled pitch for a 20-yard score with 2:57 left in the third quarter to put Central in a 20-13 hole.
But two possessions later, the Maroons rode the sturdy churning legs of Toby Rivera and the quickness of Jalen Rose and Montrel Moore for a nine-play, 63-yard drive to close the gap.
Rivera did much of the heavy lifting, gaining 38 of those yards on six carries, including a 2-yard touchdown run to pull the Maroons within 20-19 with 3:48 left in the game. After Urbana (0-2) was called for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on the play, Albaugh decided to go for the win instead of the tie and again turned to Rivera.
The 6-foot, 200-pound senior plowed into the end zone again for a two-point conversion to put Central back ahead.
Rivera had missed the previous two series after getting hit hard on a run near the Urbana goal line and fumbling.
“He was very hurt, but I don’t know if there’s anybody tougher than Toby Rivera,” Albaugh said.
Urbana responded with a drive from its 41 to inside the Central red zone with time running down. But on third down at the Maroons 18, Tigers running back James Cobbs fumbled at the end of a gain of about 8 yards, and the Maroons recovered to clinch the win.
“I don’t know that any of us can fathom that right now,” said Albaugh, in his first year at the Central helm, when asked what this win meant for his program. “I know that all the hard work at long last will start to pay off.
“But I think it’s important for all of us after being able to run the football like that, it tells us that maybe we’ve got a chance to do more than just win our first game.”
Urbana was without starting quarterback Alex Beckman, who was withheld with an undisclosed injury. Wide receiver Tanner Russell filled in.
TEAM CONF. OVERALL
Normal Community 2 0 2 0
Normal West 2 0 2 0
Decatur MacArthur 1 0 2 0
Bloomington 1 1 1 1
Centennial 1 1 1 1
Champaign Central 1 1 1 1
Danville 0 1 0 2
Decatur Eisenhower 0 2 0 2
Urbana 0 2 0 2
NEXT FRIDAY’S GAMES
Bloomington at Urbana
Centennial at Danville
Eisenhower at Central
MacArthur at Normal West
Niles Notre Dame at Normal Community