CHAMPAIGN — Jimmy Fitzgerald will pass this way again. For Centennial High School’s football team, that is a good thing.
The junior quarterback completed 9 of 12 passes — in each half — with no interceptions as the Chargers topped Central 20-8 on Friday in the Twin City championship game at Tommy Stewart Field.
He celebrated, but not what he accomplished.
“The defense stepped up and held them,” Fitzgerald said. “The defense was huge. Our line blocked a great game. We win as a team.”
It was the type of night where veteran Charger coach Mike McDonnell found little fault.
“I’m happy for the seniors, and proud of all of them,” said McDonnell, who canceled today’s practice as a reward for the team’s second consecutive win in the Battle of Champaign.
The first 22 minutes of the first half illustrated the differences in the Unit 4 rivals, who were playing for the 41st time in a game that drew an estimated crowd of 2,000.
Central had all but one of its first downs by rushing. Centennial had all of its on passes by Fitzgerald, who connected with five different receivers by game’s end.
“He is big, strong, elusive, moves well and throws the ball well,” Central coach Nate Albaugh said.
Following a 45-yard punt by Central’s Toby Rivera, which bounced into the end zone with 1 minute, 57 seconds left in the half, the Chargers took over on their own 20 in an 8-8 game.
It took Fitzgerald 69 seconds and seven passes — five of which were completions — to march Centennial (4-4) downfield for the tiebreaking touchdown. For the second time in the half, he hooked up with Steven Lee for a scoring strike, the final one covering 22 yards with 48.6 seconds left in the second quarter.
“The players came out and played,” McDonnell said. “They’ve learned how to win. It takes a while. They’ve showed spurts, and they’ve taken a big, big jump.
“We’ve had the skill players. The size on the line is one thing we’ve fought. We have little guys playing big now.”
After a scoreless third period, Centennial clinched the win, which kept playoff hopes alive, with a 17-play scoring drive that consumed 8:12 and ended with Fitzgerald scoring on a 1-yard run with 3:43 left. He converted fourth-down plays with a run twice in the drive.
“We’re looking now to come out with our best week of practice because there’s more on the line,” Fitzgerald said.
Big 12 standings
TEAM CONF. OVERALL
Normal Community 7 0 7 1
Normal West 6 1 6 1
Bloomington 5 2 5 3
Decatur MacArthur 4 3 5 3
Centennial 3 4 4 4
Danville 3 4 3 5
Champaign Central 2 5 3 5
Urbana 1 6 2 6
Decatur Eisenhower 1 7 1 7
Normal West at Columbia, Mo.
NEXT FRIDAY’S GAMES
MacArthur at Bloomington
Centennial at Normal West
Normal Community at Champaign Central
Urbana at Danville
Eisenhower at Bloomington Central Cath.