Kroner: Champaign rivals have had some doozies
The Battle of Champaign — the football version — has been in existence four decades.
In that time, there have been overtime games, one-point decisions, last-second triumphs and come-from-behind wins.
Those who think this historic rivalry has had a little bit of everything, however, would be wrong.
In the first 40 games, Central never has been shut out. The series is close in more ways than one.
Thanks to a win last fall, Centennial holds a 20-19-1 all-time edge. Eighteen of the games played thus far have been settled by no more than eight points.
For the athletes and coaches involved, every game stands out in some respect. After reviewing the entire series, The News-Gazette has selected 11 games — just like in the series, there was a tie — that were special either from a historical perspective or due to the performances involved.
Among the oddities that missed the cut were the 2009 and 2010 games, which were special because the final score — and the winning team — was exactly the same. The only difference was that the schools needed overtime in 2009 to achieve the 27-21 margin for the Maroons.
Another interesting point: In the last 27 games, there has not been a shutout. In the first 13 games, there were 13 shutouts, including two in a row for the only time in 1981-82.
More memories will be made in 12 days when the 41st contest in the city series kicks off at Tommy Stewart Field, adjacent to Centennial High School.
Here’s the trip down Memory Lane.
Sept. 9, 1977, Central 9, Centennial 8. Maroons coach Tommy Stewart didn’t hesitate to send in a senior place-kicker for a field goal attempt on what would be the game’s final play. He wasn’t discouraged that the kicker had missed his only extra-point attempt as well as a previous field goal attempt.
His confidence in John Cochrane was rewarded. With Mike Greenberg serving as holder and Scott Johnson the snapper, Cochrane booted a 32-yard field goal as time expired.
Cochrane’s kick wiped out a Centennial lead that had stood since the second quarter, when Jack Duge not only scored a touchdown but also ran for the two-point conversion.
“Tom Stewart was a visionary,” Greenberg recalled. “We were in a two-minute drill, using a spread offense when it was not in vogue. We ran a double wideout with John (Cochrane) in shotgun. The most amazing thing is that was more than 30 years ago.”
Greenberg had a good view on the winning kick.
“He was a straight-on kicker, and it was right down the middle,” Greenberg said. “It was good from the moment he hit it. We had no problem lining up to make field goals. It was something we practiced a lot.”
Coincidentally, there have been three additional games decided by one point, and Centennial was victorious in the others.
Oct. 2, 1987, Centennial 21, Central 20. This was not the first game to end in regulation with a tied score, but it was the first time the schools played overtime. The Chargers had the ball first and, after three plays, faced fourth and goal from the 11-yard line.
Senior John Woods then hauled in a pass from Steve Swartz at the 6-yard line and scored the go-ahead touchdown. David Lansford converted his third consecutive point-after attempt.
The kick was the game-winner when Central was unsuccessful trying for a two-point conversion after a Darrell Boysaw TD run.
“My patented move was a fade route,” said Woods, now the assistant principal at Central, “but I told Coach (Gary) Hembrough ‘hit me on the slant.’ The ball was on the right hash. I lined up wide to the left, and Steve put the ball where it needed to be. That made my job easy.”
The season’s Week 5 game marked the second time that Woods caught a game-winning pass. He vividly recalls the game with the Maroons.
“That might have been the coldest night ever in the history of football,” he said.
The teams combined for a mark that can never be bettered. There were no turnovers.
Oct. 22, 1983, Centennial 20, Central 9. Heavy rain Friday forced postponement of the game by 24 hours. The Chargers’ play subsequently forced Central coach Tommy Stewart to wait an additional week for career win No. 200 as Gary Hembrough was a winner in his first city series game. Jon Bristow rushed for a game-high 107 yards and scored two touchdowns for Centennial.
“I remember almost everything about those two days,” Bristow said. “After we got rained out, we were disappointed, but me, Tate Merten, Steve Klaus and some other seniors went to the haunted house at Country Fair. Stevie Jay was there from WLRW, and I made a Joe Namath remark. I said, ‘I guarantee we will win tomorrow.’ He said if you win, call me Monday morning and I will put you on. We put it on them Saturday, and he put me on the air Monday. It was really cool. It was one of the best victories we had. I don’t think anyone gave us a shot of winning. After the game, we got the front page (of The News-Gazette), along with Illinois (football).”
Sept. 7, 1973, Central 10, Centennial 0. This is when it all started, and 4,500 fans were on hand to watch the series debut. The Maroons wasted no time in building a lead in Game 1 of the now-annual event. Jeff Corley caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Bill Stahl, giving Central a lead on the game’s first possession. Stahl was 5 of 7 for 125 yards. The 7-0 lead held until the fourth quarter when Dick Pittman added a 27-yard field goal. The Maroons held a 210-125 edge in total yards.
“Centennial was in the Capitol Conference, and we didn’t really play them in any sports at that time, unless we saw them in the regional,” Corley said. “That was pretty much the first of any of them. I remember the excitement around town. The stands were completely full, and it was three or four deep all the way around the field.” Corley has had four subsequent encounters with the Central-Centennial game, serving as one of the game officials, including in the Chargers’ 2013 win.
The inaugural game holds a tie for the fewest combined points scored in a Battle of Champaign game. The 1985 game also ended 10-0 and was noteworthy because a Central sophomore (Dave Kucera) called up to the varsity on Wednesday booted a field goal and an extra point 48 hours later in the second half of his first varsity game. Kelly Matthews scored the only touchdown.
Sept. 23, 1994, Centennial 42, Central 33. This game, the 22nd in the series, remains the record-holder for most points scored by the winning team, most points scored by the losing team and — naturally — most combined points in one Centennial-Central contest.
The Chargers’ Lenny Willis rushed for 251 yards on 24 carries and scored four TDs. The schools combined for 788 yards of total offense (402 by Centennial) and 43 first downs. Willis was the second athlete in the Champaign rivalry with a four-touchdown game.
Sept. 6, 1974, Centennial 7, Central 7. The coaches and game officials shared responsibility for this outcome. In the first year of the IHSA playoff series, one rule was that procedures for overtime in nonconference games must be discussed during a pregame meeting or else the game will end in a tie. Future Hall of Fame coaches Tommy Stewart from Central and Wes Davis from Centennial, as well as officials, forgot to talk about how to handle a possible OT session in advance, so the game ended after 48 minutes of action.
Centennial scored first on a 67-yard run by Mark Lutzel (who led the team in rushing with 77 yards), and Central’s Bill Stahl added a tying 1-yard TD run in the second quarter.
A scoreless second half was preserved when Centennial’s Mike Hill blocked a field goal attempt by the Maroons’ Tom Cochrane in the final 15 seconds.
Sept. 26, 2003, Centennial 15, Central 12. The game’s start was delayed 100 minutes by weather issues, and the slow-starting Chargers needed late-game heroics to salvage the win. Ronnie Reed scored the clinching touchdown with 1:06 remaining, capping an 80-yard scoring march by Centennial in the last 3:07. Reed rushed for a game-high 129 yards on 29 attempts.
Sept. 30, 1988, Central 32, Centennial 7. Senior Perry Williams rushed for 126 yards on 22 carries and became the first player in series history with a four-touchdown game. Maroons teammate Jeff Kurtz had a team-high 11 tackles.
Oct. 17, 2008, Central 31, Centennial 21. For the second consecutive season, Central’s Tyler Finkbeiner scored either the winning or the go-ahead touchdown.
His 1-yard run with 4:33 remaining broke a 21-21 tie. Junior teammate Denzel Stewart rushed for 199 yards and scored the Maroons’ other three TDs. Stewart held the upper hand in a battle of star running backs. Current UI basketball player Rayvonte Rice rushed for 189 yards.
A year earlier, Finkbeiner scored on a 22-yard pass from Doug Kyrouac with 6:31 left, accounting for the final points in the Maroons’ 21-18 triumph.
Sept. 21, 2001, Centennial 22, Central 20. In a season of hard-luck losses (by margins of two, two and four points), Central had a setback unlike any other.
Centennial scored the tiebreaking points on a safety when a center snap on a Central punt attempt sailed out of the end zone. The Centennial win marked the start of the longest winning streak in series history. Coach Mike McDonnell’s teams won six consecutive games before falling three points short in a 2007 game, which was the regular season finale and a game in which each team entered with a 4-4 record.
Sept. 22, 2000, Central 13, Centennial 3. Griffin Mulcahey passed the Maroons to the end zone on their first two possessions, accounting for all of the game’s touchdowns. His first scoring strike went 33 yards to Lamar Wilson. His second covered 38 yards and was hauled in by Tom Tresslar. Mulcahey completed 10 of 18 passes for 137 yards. The second half was scoreless.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.
A look at the prep football series history between Unit 4 rivals Centennial and Central:
YEAR WEEK WINNER, SCORE COMMENT
1973 1 Central 10-0 Coach Tommy Stewart’s record in Game 1s at Champaign is now 17-3
1974 1 Tie 7-7 Neither team scored in the second half
1975 1 Centennial 17-7 Chargers quarterback Jeff Morrow passed for 127 yards
1976 1 Central 21-0 John Pierce scored first TD on 30-yard interception
1977 1 Central 9-8 Final-play field goal by John Cochrane the game-winner
1978 1 Central 19-7 Central defense allowed five first downs
1979 1 Centennial 30-20 Chargers Mike Carroll and Jim Miller teamed up for 296 total yards
1980 1 Centennial 21-18 Chargers’ Wes Davis called first half “best we’ve played against them”
1981 1 Central 16-0 Maroons managed 130 yards of total offense
1982 1 Central 21-0 John Patrizi gained 114 yards and scored two TDs
1983 7 Centennial 20-9 Chargers held 283-152 edge in total yards
1984 7 Centennial 7-6 Chargers converted third and 30 on only scoring drive
1985 7 Central 10-0 Central senior Scott Shoop recovered three fumbles
1986 5 Central 9-7 Winning points came on Mark Ohmstein’s safety
1987 5 Centennial 21-20, OT Chargers junior Blair Sarkiss had 17 tackles
1988 5 Central 32-7 Perry Williams had series’ first individual four-TD game
1989 5 Centennial 27-6 Jacob Walker (158 rushing yards), Ian Blomberg (111) led Chargers
1990 5 Central 31-14 Joe Helfrich broke 14-14 tie, scoring on second-half kickoff return
1991 5 Centennial 13-12 Charger Erik Sheehan kicked two field goals for season, both in this game
1992 5 Central 18-13 Both teams entered game with 0-4 season records
1993 5 Central 19-12 Despite 3 yards passing overall, Maroons built 19-0 lead
1994 5 Centennial 42-33 Series-record 11 TDs were scored, seven by different players
1995 5 Central 15-12 Second William Summerville TD wiped out 12-7 Chargers lead
1996 5 Central 32-27 Maroons amassed 351 yards of total offense
1997 5 Centennial 38-15 Seventh-rated Chargers set record for largest margin of victory
1998 5 Centennial 38-20 Dustin Ward 14 of 29 for 214 yards for eighth-rated Chargers
1999 5 Central 35-6 Maroons’ Romielle Brown passed for 240 yards, rushed for 81
2000 5 Central 13-3 All scoring took place prior to intermission
2001 5 Centennial 22-20 Chargers’ Marquis Johnson caught seven passes for 170 yards and scored two TDs
2002 5 Centennial 19-3 Central (4-0 before game) held to 34 yards rushing, 112 total yards
2003 5 Centennial 15-12 Chargers drove 80 yards in final 3:07 to complete comeback
2004 8 Centennial 24-14 Charger Greg Broeren scored twice in second half, team rallied from 14-10 down
2005 8 Centennial 23-20 Tyler Stefan’s 37-yard field goal with 5:02 left broke 14-14 tie
2006 9 Centennial 30-7 Future NFL player Mikel Leshoure (two TDs) gained 185 yards on 29 carries
2007 9 Central 21-18 Chargers’ Tyler Stefan made two field goals but missed one with 2.9 seconds to go
2008 8 Central 31-21 Maroons junior Denzel Stewart rushed for 199 yards and scored three TDs
2009 8 Centennial 27-21, OT Jake Chesnut’s 3-yard TD run in overtime was the winner
2010 9 Centennial 27-21 Jake Chesnut was 14-of-19 passing for 186 yards and three TDs
2011 9 Central 24-19 Maroons’ Mitchell Baker was 10-of-18 passing for 230 yards and two TDs
2012 8 Centennial 40-20 Chargers’ Jimmy Fitzgerald was 10-of-18 passing for 210 yards and three TDs