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There were several reasons Ryan Mulhern shouldn't have made the biggest field goal of his life.
The Neuqua Valley senior hadn't converted since Sept. 28. He was 2-for-6 on the year. His usual snapper got injured. A previous extra point was botched.
And the whopper, a game-time decision cleared him to play Saturday after an enlarged spleen from mononucleosis held him out last week against Bolingbrook.
With 11 seconds left in the Class 8A quarterfinal and the ball on the 2-yard line against archrival Waubonsie Valley, Mulhern narrowed his focus and delivered. His 19-yard field goal gave the host Wildcats a 23-20 victory before 7,500 people in Naperville.
"It was just me, the ball, the block and the holder. That worked," said Mulhern, who converted the hold by Conner Milliren from the snap by Jason Vandermyde, subbing for Andrew Geers, injured in the third quarter. His boot capped a 69-yard drive that started with 2:28 left.
"This week he's been back to the doctor and it's looking a little bit better so we went ahead and let him kick," said Neuqua coach Bill Ellinghaus. "And my gosh, the rest speaks for itself."
Mulhern's kick and a yeoman effort by tailback Joey Rhattigan — a program record 40 mud-caked carries for 290 yards and 3 touchdowns — sent No. 1 seed Neuqua Valley (12-0) to next week's semifinal against No. 3 Mt. Carmel, a 45-10 winner over Lyons Twp.
"Rhattigan wore us down. That's the way I looked at it," said Waubonsie coach Paul Murphy, adding the loss is "not going to define us."
No. 4 Waubonsie (10-2) led 14-0 after a quarter on Austin Guido's 2-yard run and Demario Webb's 8-yard run. Rhattigan made it 14-6 at halftime on his 5-yarder set up by his own 32-yard tackle-breaking scamper. Guido added 129 yards to his team rushing record.
Out of halftime Rhattigan ran for all 64 yards of Neuqua's scoring drive, scoring from 24 yards out to pull within 14-12. He gave Neuqua its first lead, 20-14, on a 15-yard run and 2-point conversion with 52.2 seconds left in the third quarter.
"In these muddy games you depend on your O-line," said Rhattigan, citing Geers, Vandermyde, J.P. Quinn, Nick Bilgri, Kyle Bryant and Mark Luperini. "And they blocked well for me and I ran well for the team."
Waubonsie countered on a 12-play, 80-yard drive capped by Dylan Warden's 8-yard pass to Dan Waldron slanting in from the left. Neuqua's Dennis Thurow, behind a line surge from Quinn and Bryant, blocked the extra point to leave the score 20-20 with 7:13 to play.
"They're the No. 1 seed and we were right there with them," said Warden, tears down his cheeks. "It's special to be the first Waubonsie team to play on this field, first time Waubonsie and Neuqua have met in the playoffs, and we're going to be part of that."