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Neuqua Valley rode a "Train" through Bolingbrook on Friday.
That is, the player coach Bill Ellinghaus calls the "Train," tailback Joey Rhattigan, helped deliver a historic 44-33 Wildcats victory over the defending Class 8A champion Raiders in the second round of the playoffs.
For the first time in its 15-year history No. 1 seed Neuqua Valley (11-0) advanced to the quarterfinals, avenging last season's first-round loss to Bolingbrook if not a second-round loss in 2005. Neuqua will play the winner of Saturday's game between No. 4 Waubonsie Valley and No. 12 Oak Park.
Rhattigan, the Wildcats' single-season and all-time rushing leader, scored 5 touchdowns on 26 carries for 344 yards, a yard shy of the program record.
On his go-ahead fourth touchdown, from Bolingbrook's 5-yard line, the 6-foot, 200-pound senior was hit at the 6-yard line and drove a pile of would-be Raiders tacklers and Neuqua blockers, rugby-style, into the end zone.
"I coached him that on Tuesday," Ellinghaus joked. "He carried those guys in. He's an absolute tank."
"I know my teammates were helping me, pushing me through that pile," said Rhattigan, who on a flea-flicker 2-point conversion passed back across the field to quarterback Dylan Andrew for a 36-33 Wildcats lead with 3:14 left to play.
"I think that's just been our team motto, is to finish, and finishing in the end zone is part of it," said Rhattigan, who was not done yet.
No. 9 Bolingbrook (8-3) took possession and quarterback Aaron Bailey nearly had a long gainer on a dropped pass. The Illinois-bound senior, back after knee and hamstring injuries shelved him for a month, went right back to the well, but Neuqua safety Dennis Thurow intercepted his pass near midfield.
"All second half we knew we needed a stop," said Thurow, the all-Upstate Eight Valley pick who made a team-high 16 tackles. "Our offense was going to keep picking it up just like they always do. We knew at that point we need a turnover. They were going to have to throw the ball."
Seeking the knockout, on first down at Neuqua's 47-yard line, Rhattigan shrugged off three, four, five tackles before gaining the right sideline and beating pursuit for a 53-yard touchdown run. Andrew's conversion pass to Mike Dudek made it 44-33 with 2:06 left.
Smelling blood, sacks by Sam Norgaard and Andrew Fraczek closed out Bailey's prep football days. The 2011 all-stater finished with 66 yards passing and 214 yards rushing with touchdown runs of 14, 1 and 20 yards.
"I think it's going to motivate us even further. I don't think this team wants to be done," said Rhattigan, who also ran for touchdowns of 22, 84 and 7 yards, aided by great blocks from Dudek and linemen like pulling guard Jason Vandermyde.
In a game Neuqua led 14-13 at halftime and which featured 5 lead changes, the only 2 passing touchdowns were Bailey's opening 10-yarder to Brandon Lewis and a 35-yarder to Dudek for a 28-27 Neuqua lead after three quarters.
"I believe that these kids are not satisfied," Ellinghaus said.
He noted Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow told him they shouldn't be, either.
"He said he really felt like we've got the team that can take it the distance," Ellinghaus said.