GURNEE – Matt Rush knew he had to take shots, and look wide.
With a physical, nasty Warren defense clogging the middle, that meant safety Drew Novatney and linebacker Nick Franko moonlighting on the offense's perimeter edges.
It definitely meant getting Braden Contreras touches.
Hinsdale Central's 6-foot-1 junior wide receiver has tremendous ball skills, and the ability to elevate in coverage.
"He's been doing it all year for us," said Rush, Hinsdale Central's senior quarterback. "He's a huge threat."
He was again Saturday night.
Contreras made a spectacular touchdown catch in the first half to spark the Red Devils. He also had a key catch in Hinsdale Central's last drive that came up short in a 17-14 loss to Warren in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs.
The Red Devils (8-3), only the second team to score two TDs in a game against Warren (10-1) this year, drove from their 6-yard line to the Blue Devils' 35 in the last five minutes. Contreras' 19-yard catch and run was the big play.
A fumbled pitch, though, thwarted Hinsdale Central's comeback bid.
"That's all hard work, last drive of the game, last drive of the season," said Contreras, who had three catches for 61 yards. "We came up short, but we kept on fighting."
Contreras did not get a ton of targets, but made the most of the balls that came his way.
In the second quarter, with Hinsdale Central trailing 7-0, Contreras simply jumped over a smaller defender draped all over him in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown.
"That's all Matt, just trusting me," Contreras said of his 11th touchdown. "I'm grateful that he trusts me enough to put it up and let me make a play."
"An amazing catch," Rush said.
But not one that surprised his coach. Contreras made a similar catch against Lyons Township, part of a career-high 184-yard night.
"He's been getting better and better," Hinsdale Central coach Dan Hartman said. "He seems to find a way to make those catches in traffic, which is amazing. We were able to get it to him a few times. When we did he was able to make some plays."
Hinsdale Central had ample opportunity to tack on points throughout the game.
The Red Devils three times crossed midfield in the first half, only to not come away with points.
In the third quarter, after Contreras and Novatney combined on a throwback kickoff return that took the ball near midfield, Rush was intercepted by Warren's Patrick Sharpe.
"We left some points out there, which was unfortunate, but we battled back," Hartman said. "We just didn't make enough plays at the end."
Juan Delacruz's 11-yard touchdown pass with 45.2 seconds left in the half sent Warren into halftime ahead 14-7, and Adam Saul's 29-yard field goal capped a 12-play drive to start the third quarter.
Matt Bobak, bottled up for much of the night, closed Hinsdale Central to within 17-14 on the last play of the third quarter. He pinballed off one tackler, and went 51 yards for a score.
"We felt like if we could move them side to side, we could find some creases," Hartman said.
The Red Devils had one last crack to get the ball back, after the late fumbled pitch. But Warren backup quarterback Christian Phillips broke off a 19-yard gain a direct snap on third and long, sealing the Blue Devils' win and sending them into a quarterfinal matchup with Brother Rice.
Warren was 7-for-13 on third-down conversions. Notably, 5-foot-9 Tavvion McCarthy skied for a 26-yard gainer to set up Delacruz's touchdown at the end of the first half.
"Kid made a tremendous catch," Hartman said. "Not much you can do."
Hartman's Red Devils did a lot, despite playing a schedule that included six conference champions over 11 games. Hinsdale Central reached the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year, something that the program hadn't done since 2007-2008.
"Our team fought through a lot," Contreras said.