Prepared Neuqua Valley advances past Palatine in the mud
Neuqua Valley football coach Bill Ellinghaus had foreseen the moment. Junior quarterback Kiet Truong delivered.
In for injured starting quarterback Ryan Mohler, on fourth-and-17 from Palatine's 27-yard line late in the fourth quarter with the score tied, Truong completed a 24-yard swing pass to running back Silvano Spatafora. Two plays later Spatafora scored the go-ahead touchdown.
On the Wildcats' next possession Spatafora followed with the rare long run on the muddy field, a 30-yarder, that gave the No. 16 seed Wildcats a 31-17 victory over No. 17 Palatine in the Class 8A first-round playoff game Friday in Naperville.
"I told him, I said, Kiet, there's going to be a time where you're going to have to come in and help us win a football game. And tonight was his night," Ellinghaus said.
Two things could have gone differently before Truong's clutch 24-yard pass. Palatine nearly picked off a pass two plays earlier, then a delay-of-game penalty dashed Neuqua's potential 38-yard field goal try, not a given.
Instead Truong and Spatafora's late thunder advanced Neuqua Valley (7-3) to the second round against either Loyola or Plainfield North. Palatine finished 6-4.
"It was next man up, our coach always says," said Truong, who completed 6 of his 9 passes. "We've had a lot of injuries this year, and he's always told me I've got to be right there in case something happens. Mohler runs the ball a lot. I was right there, prepared."
Mohler, the senior who with kicker Easton Taylor staked Neuqua Valley to a 14-0 lead by 4:38 of the first quarter on touchdown runs of 46 and 38 yards, left the game with an upper body injury after a 23-yard run early in the third quarter.
Until Spatafora broke his 30-yard run between left tackle Nick Williamson and left guard Andrew Cohen with 1:50 left to play, it was tough going.
"It felt good to just see an open hole and then run to the end zone," said Spatafora, who finished with 81 yards on 27 carries.
Palatine's Tulane-bound Dominik Ball, the Pirates' all-time rushing leader entering the game with 4,068 yards, was limited to 23 yards on 11 carries in the muck.
"Coming into this field, I knew it might have an effect, but the extent it had on me, I definitely didn't expect that," he said.
"It took away most of my game, which is cut backs and sticking my foot in the ground, which I was not able to do at all tonight. But it is what it is."
After a fumble recovery off the opening kickoff and Ryan Mascari's punt block and recovery helped Neuqua Valley to its 14-0 lead, Palatine turned the tables.
The Pirates' Detton Tietjens recovered a muffed punt at Neuqua Valley's 16-yard line. That led to quarterback Tommy Elter's 11-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 score at 1:39 of the first quarter.
Kickers Alek Huyser and Taylor traded second-quarter field goals and Neuqua Valley took a 17-10 lead into halftime.
On Palatine's first third-quarter possession, Kole Fager's 1-yard up-and-over dive tied the score 17-17.
"They're a tough program and they made a few more plays than we did, so that's the way it works. They move on," said Pirates coach Corey Olson.