As much as he enjoys throwing the ball, Naperville Central junior quarterback Payton Thorne acknowledges where his bread is buttered.

In some ways, All-DVC running back AJ Deinhart hasn’t had the senior year he may have expected for the Redhawks.

But he’s heating up and Thorne has every reason to be thankful.

“He’s finally back to injury free AJ,” Thorne said. “So it’s been fun to watch as a quarterback when my running back is doing that well.”

Behind another performance in true Deinhart form on Friday, 13th-seeded Naperville Central survived 20th-seeded West Aurora, 35-14, in a Class 8A first-round game in Naperville.

Deinhart ran 20 times for 158 yards and two TDs for the Redhawks (8-2), who’ll travel to fourth-seeded Homewood-Flossmoor next week.

“We just wanted seven more days together, so we came out and we said we were going to run the ball,” he said. “The O-line did a great job opening some holes for me.”

The last three weeks have seen Deinhart run for a combined 471 yards and five touchdowns on 68 carries.

With the Blackhawks (7-3) pushing early in the fourth, Deinhart took matters into his own hands.

After the Naperville Central defense forced a turnover on downs deep in its territory early in the fourth, Deinhart ran five times for 84 yards.

His nine-yard touchdown run finally put the game out of reach after West Aurora used two TDs to get within 28-14.

The Redhawks scored touchdowns on their first four possessions to take a 28-0 lead with 10:08 remaining in the first half.

Two touchdown passes from Thorne to Western Michigan-bound receiver Jayden Reed set things up, with a TD throw to Cade McDonald added for good measure.

Thorne finished five-of-10 passing for 147 yards and the three touchdowns.

Naperville Central senior Tommy Carlsen returns an interception against West Aurora.

“Just the short stuff early on, getting (Reed) a couple bubbles,” Thorne said. “(Reed) is going to make you look good (when) you get the ball in his hands. But then Cade was a great catch down here in the end zone.”

Defensively, the Redhawk defense forced seven turnovers on downs to go with a Lavar Archibald fumble recovery and a Tommy Carlsen interception.

When considering the fact West Aurora ran 32 more offensive plays, Naperville Central coach Mike Stine was pleased with the effort.

“We’ve had some games this year where the play differential has been 20 to 30 plays and it was probably that way (Friday) night,” he said. “I felt like our defense was on the field all night long. I don’t they broke any big plays. … And that was the thing we said – they have some skill players we don’t want to let loose.”

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