DARIEN – Calling Ben Stefani’s effort last Friday workman-like doesn’t quite describe it.
The Hinsdale Central senior running back was more like an entire work crew as he guided the Red Devils to a 17-7 win over district-rival Hinsdale South.
Stefani carried the ball 30 times in the game. The rest of the Red Devils combined accounted for 22 plays. It had been years since Stefani was leaned upon so heavily in a game.
“Sophomore year I had some games like this, but not on varsity,” he said.
Juwan Edmund, Stefani’s main backfield mate this season, sprained his ankle in practice last week and missed the game. It just gave Stefani more time to prepare.
“We knew we were probably going to have to play without him, and if by a miracle he did play that would be a bonus,” Stefani said. “It’s nice when Juwan is out there. He has that speed so he helps out on the outside plays. It was just more carries. It gets exhausting.”
Central’s coaching staff had no problem turning to Stefani since it knew he could handle the load.
“He’s just a tough football player,” Central coach Rich Tarka said. “We knew he could do what he did tonight. It’s nice to have two running backs, but we weren’t fazed by [Edmund’s injury]. We told Ben he was going to get 30 carries today, and he did. He did great.”
It didn’t take long for Stefani to get going. He accounted for all 57 yards on Central’s first drive, capped by a 2-yard scoring scamper, as the Red Devils (4-3 overall) jumped out to a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game. Stefani’s 14-yard run gave the visitors a 17-0 lead with 4:31 left in the third quarter.
Stefani gained the tough yards between the tackles, but also showed his ability to rail off big gains (six runs of 10 yards or more).
Central’s defense was just as impressive as Stefani. The Hornets gained just 77 yards in the first half, punted four times and turned the ball over twice.
Late in the third quarter, the Hornets (3-4 overall) grabbed some momentum on a big pass play that cut the deficit to 17-7.
On second-and-8, Mark Watson went up and over a defensive back to grab Robbie Regan’s pass and raced 77 yards for the score with 2:30 left in the frame.
South couldn’t maintain the momentum as its next three drives ended with two punts and a turnover on downs late in the game. The Hornets now need to win out in their next two games to have a shot at the postseason.
“We got our fourth loss to a real quality team. They’re powerful in the box and it was hard to run against them so we had to throw the ball a bit more than maybe we’d like,” South coach Mike Barry said. “But ... our goals are still in sight. We’re prepared to learn from this game, put it behind us a move forward.”