Neuqua Valley, an eight-time playoff qualifier since it began varsity football in 1998, had never started a season 2-0.
The Wildcats finally got it done Friday night at home in south Naperville, beating Naperville Central 41-28 on the heels of their first nonconference win over Naperville North.
“We were coming to make history, to start 2-0 and beat both Naperville teams at the start of the season,” said Neuqua running back Joey Rhattigan, who ran for 259 yards with touchdown runs of 54, 6 and 46 yards. “Really, that’s the biggest motivation, I think, for this team, because this team is all about making history and doing our best.”
Beside lost fumbles and personal-foul penalties Wildcats coach Bill Ellinghaus will address, Neuqua Valley looked strong. The 3-5 defense sacked Naperville Central quarterback Jake Kolbe 5 times and in the first half held the 0-2 Redhawks to 2 yards rushing, 69 overall.
Jimmy Nashert’s 38-yard punt return provided Naperville Central’s sole first-half touchdown, which tied the score 7-7. Neuqua scored on its opening possession on Rhattigan’s 54-yard run between left tackle Andrew Geers and left guard Kyle Bryant.
Led by fiery defensive end Cody Campbell, the Redhawks naturally keyed on Rhattigan, which opened up Neuqua quarterback Dylan Andrew’s passing game. He rolled out for a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Evak, and he later threw a 10-yard touchdown to Mikey Dudek, who won a jump ball in the right corner for a 21-7 lead at halftime.
“It’s really nice when you have a back like Joey to complement on the ground, so it makes my job a lot easier. We had a good flow tonight, it felt good,” said Andrew, 12-of-17 passing for 132 yards.
Naperville Central, which controlled the ball the bulk of the second half, pulled within 21-14 when under heavy pressure Kolbe hit Nashert for a 29-yard touchdown.
Any momentum was lost when Neuqua’s Josh Prescher returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards to score.
“It would have been nice if we could not have that touchdown run back, but it happens. On offense we’ve just got to come back and score, which we didn’t,” Kolbe said.
The best they could do was trade fourth-quarter scores, Rhattigan scoring on both Wildcats’ possessions and Naperville Central’s Nick Thomas slamming in from 2 and 8 yards out. Thomas finished with 85 yards on 20 carries.
“One of our goals is to be (DuPage Valley) conference champs,” Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said, “and these first two games have no bearing on that. That goal is still achievable.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.