In the Class 8A football quarterfinals on Saturday, No. 1 seed Neuqua Valley and No. 4 Waubonsie Valley play the biggest game either team has had since 1992, when B.J. Luke's Waubonsie Warriors lost to Naperville North in the Class 6A semifinals.
"It'll be an event for the ages, hopefully," said Neuqua coach Bill Ellinghaus.
To District 204 students it's always a huge deal when their teams clash. It's happened 14 times -- never before in the playoffs -- with the Wildcats owning a 10-4 series lead. The games have gone to overtime three times, including the last two meetings.
A great game looms Saturday at Neuqua -- but first, a look back at some of the rivalry's key contests.
• 1999, Neuqua 14, Waubonsie 6: The first game in the series. Bryan Wells' Wildcats win in their second year as a varsity program. Neuqua tailback Bryen Johnson's 2 second-quarter touchdowns prevail.
• 2001, Waubonsie 7, Neuqua 0: The first of the series' overtime games and the Warriors' first win, three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Andrew Block atones for a fumble on Waubonsie's last possession in regulation with a 7-yard touchdown run in overtime.
• 2003, Neuqua 28, Waubonsie 7: Notable for the series debut at North Central College -- and four injured players, including Waubonsie quarterback Paul Blalock and tailback Larry Russell. Neuqua's Mike Genslinger runs for 3 touchdowns.
• 2004, Neuqua 63, Waubonsie 21: Neuqua scores on its first six possessions in the series' first blowout. Wildcats quarterback Ken Rice sets a program record with 244 yards passing. "We didn't want to just beat them -- we wanted to show they can't play with us," he said.
• 2005, Neuqua 22, Waubonsie 3: Waubonsie coach Paul Murphy's first series game. Rich Tronolone's 20-yard field goal give him a 3-0 lead, but Neuqua scores 22 unanswered points, Alan Smith and Jonn "The Train" Haywood combining for 265 yards rushing.
• 2008: Waubonsie 28, Neuqua 26: The Warriors enter the game 0-3 but win the quarterback showdown between Waubonsie's Tyler Castro (268 yards passing) and Neuqua's Alex Lincoln (265 passing).
• 2011: Waubonsie 27, Neuqua 21: Dylan Warden's 6-yard touchdown run in overtime is the difference. That, and a defensive stop of Neuqua's Joey Rhattigan on fourth-and-2.
• 2012: Neuqua 35, Waubonsie 34: The best of all 14 meetings and the first with Bill Ellinghaus as Wildcats head coach. Both teams enter at 6-0, 3-0 in the Upstate Eight Valley. Waubonsie's Austin Guido rushes 37 times for 255 yards and the Warriors survive 2 interceptions and a lost fumble to reach overtime. After overtime touchdowns by Waubonsie's Guido and Warden and Neuqua's Rhattigan and Mike Dudek, Neuqua's Ryan Mulhern kicks the decisive extra point in the second overtime and Waubonsie's 2-point conversion run fails.
Which sets the stage for Saturday.
"For the seniors on both sides of the ball this will be a game they'll remember for the rest of their lives," Murphy said.
Heart and soul:
Last week Glenbard North managed to edge Stevenson despite the absence of linebacker Mario Rodriguez because of a knee injury. After a stellar regular season, Rodriguez was named the DuPage Valley Conference defensive player of the year.
"The reason Mario was DVC defensive player of the year is because he plays every single play like it's his last," said Panthers coach Ryan Wilkens after his team's win in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs. "We told the guys, that's what we expect from all of them."
A nice effort by the defensive line helped overcome the loss while Nick Maxwell, normally a safety, stepped up to fill the void at linebacker. Hurt at times during the season, Maxwell brings a similar physical style of play as Rodriguez.
Heading into Saturday's semifinals at top-seeded Maine South (11-0), look for Maxwell to get a bunch of playing time for the No. 4 Panthers (10-1). Quarterback Brian Murphy and running back Justin Jackson remain integral parts of the secondary.
"That was a big blow for us, but we need some guys to step up," Wilkens said.
When Class 7A top seed Glenbard West (11-0) plays host to No. 5 Wheaton North (10-1) Saturday afternoon, the Hilltoppers will enjoy more than just a home-field advantage.
Playing at Glen Ellyn's Duchon Field will mark Wheaton North's first game on grass this season. Given the wear and tear on the field, Falcons coach Joe Wardynski is trying his best to prepare his team for the natural surface.
"We haven't practiced on the grass all season because we haven't had the need to do it," Wardynski said. "It gets dark so early now, but we're trying to get as much work done on the grass fields as we can. The kids just aren't used to playing on it."
While acknowledging his team's experience on grass is an advantage, Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet believes the Hilltoppers own an additional advantage by playing in Glen Ellyn. Wheaton North, like many of Glenbard West's opponents, has not played a Saturday game or a day game all season.
"For teams that haven't played on Saturday before, it can be hard to figure out what to do on Friday night," Hetlet said.
For his Saturday afternoon home games, Hetlet said he typically brings the team in for breakfast and then allows them to be on their own until they come back to school at 11:45 a.m. to prep for a 1:30 p.m. game. Even though this week's game has a 1 p.m. start time, it's still a routine that increases the comfort level for the players.
"There's something about playing on Saturdays that we've always enjoyed," Hetlet said. "We've seen teams come in here and just be a little different than they are on Fridays."
In addition to their games in the Suburban Christian Conference, Montini and Marian Central have met eight times in the playoffs, each winning four.
This gets to be tiring.
"Yeah, I'm not going to lie to you," said Montini coach Chris Andriano. "It's hard to beat them. They're tough."
As he said, Marian's players, and success, is a reflection of its coaching staff. Headed by Ed Brucker, the Hurricanes staff features Terry Stanger and his son Dirk, Tim Lawler and Steve Spoden. All have been with Brucker in his 10 seasons at Marian.
"We're similar in a lot of ways," Andriano said. "We're a little bit old school. We believe in doing things within a system. Discipline is part of your program. Honest effort, hard work. Our kids and their kids are very similar in a lot of ways -- no excuses, no short cuts, do it the right way."
The coaches are similar also in their general dislike of playing each other so many times in the playoffs. Montini has won the last three meetings against the Hurricanes, who last won the playoff meeting in 2007.
"I like the good games," Brucker said. "Competitive games are a challenge, but at the same time you get tired of playing the same people. I'd just as soon play someone else that's good."
After Saturday one of them will get that chance.
"They're hungry, we're hungry," Andriano said.
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