It didn't take long for St. Charles East to learn why Neuqua Valley is ranked No. 10 in The Associated Press Class 8A poll.
In fact, it took just 14 seconds, which is all it took junior Mikey Dudek to return the opening kickoff 90 yards.
And less than three minutes later, Dudek flashed his speed from the other side of the ball by blocking a punt that the Wildcats recovered on the 7-yard line, and then scored the game's second touchdown three plays later from 6 yards out on a pass from Dylan Andrew.
The Wildcats finished off the Saints by a final score of 34-0.
Dudek said the Wildcats put in extra practice time to perfect both of the special plays that started the game.
"We've been working on our special teams all week in practice and they both were successful tonight," Dudek said. "I found a hole right up the middle on the kickoff and was able to take it to the house, and I think that helped us send a message right away."
Wildcats coach Bill Ellinghaus reiterated the team's focus on special teams.
"We put a lot of time in on special teams and we put a lot of emphasis on it," Ellinghaus said. "When you get results like that, you have a lot of guys hungry to play special teams. When you put special players out there with that kind of speed, that's just going to be an added plus."
Dudek's two touchdowns spotted the Wildcats a 14-0 lead, but the Saints forced a punt on their next possession, but the punt was fumbled and recovered by Neuqua on the Saints' 19-yard line. Six plays later, Joey Rhattigan scored on a 2-yard run.
St. Charles East (2-2, 1-0) appeared to gain momentum on the subsequent kickoff when Trevor Zajieck returned it to the Wildcats' 43-yard line. On fourth-and-13 the drive appeared to stall and the Saints set up for a punt, but up-back Joe Hoscheit caught the ball instead and tossed it to Brannon Barry, who made an acrobatic leap and kept his feet inbounds to advance the ball down to the Wildcats' 18. However, a penalty and a sack moved the Saints back to the 40 and they were forced to punt.
Mike Candre's punt pinned the Wildcats on their own 3-yard line, but several plays later, Rhattigan went up the middle 92 yards for a touchdown that gave Neuqua a commanding 27-0 lead.
Neuqua (4-0, 1-0) scored their final touchdown on a 1-yard run by T.J. Scruggs midway through the third quarter.
Saints coach Mike Fields felt that the physical play of the Wildcats offensive and defensive lines was the biggest difference.
"They're a physical team and they handled us up front, bottom line, so we have to give them credit," Fields said. "We can't make mental mistakes and give them opportunities like we did. We can't turn the ball over. It was a beautiful night out here and you have everything going for you, but then they get that (kickoff return for touchdown) and it took the wind out of our sails. We'll look at the film tomorrow and try to find a positive that we can take away and learn from this."
Ellinghaus also credited his defense with matching the physical play of the Saints.
"I'm real proud of our defense," Ellinghaus said. "We knew it was going to be a physical game because St. Charles has some real physical players. They've been working hard to get a shutout and they finally got it. I felt they played well for four quarters tonight."