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As "The Legend of Mikey Dudek" continues to grow, it will eventually become obvious that there's no benefit in kicking the ball to Neuqua Valley's Illinois-bound wide receiver. There is one person, however, who thinks kicking to Dudek is a great idea.
"I think people should always kick to him," said Bill Ellinghaus. Of course, his tongue was firmly in cheek as he just happens to be Dudek's coach.
Dudek was at it again on Friday, rolling up 363 total yards — 208 on four kickoff returns — and hauling in a personal-best 4 touchdown passes from Broc Rutter to lead the Wildcats (3-1) to a 54-28 Upstate Eight Conference crossover victory over visiting St. Charles East (3-1).
"You're damned if you do and damned if you don't," said Saints coach Mark Fields when asked if he thought about kicking away from Dudek. "He's a heck of a player and I can see why he's going to Illinois. We had opportunities to wrap him up, but give credit to the young man, we just couldn't bring him down."
Dudek made his presence felt on the game's opening kickoff, which he returned 86 yards to the Saints' 3-yard line, where Nolan Dean scored on the next play for a 7-0 lead after only 16 seconds of action. But the Saints served immediate notice that they would not be pushovers as they used their up-tempo, no-huddle offense to drive 70 yards in 11 plays and only three minutes with Ramon Lopez plowing in from the 1 to make it 7-6.
Neuqua's margin was quickly restored, however, as Dudek fielded the next kickoff at his 7 and sped untouched 93 yards; that was the tone for the entire game, the Saints would tally and the Wildcats would answer right back.
"I want them to kick me the ball. We practice kick returns every week hoping they'll kick it to me," Dudek said. "I had excellent blocking in front of me, coach draws up great plays for us and we just execute."
With all of the offensive pyrotechnics, the game's key sequence came in a 70-second span that bridged the second and third quarters. Dean's 17-yard run and Dudek's 28-yard TD catch had canceled out Erik Anderson's 32-yard field goal and Phil Hopper's 10-yard TD grab from Jimmy Mitchell as the Wildcats held a 28-16 lead entering the half's final minute.
The Saints looked on the way to a big defensive stop as Michael Candre and David Mason combined for a 12-yard sack of Rutter back to the Saints' 48, setting up a third-and-22 play. After a timeout Rutter found Ryan Kuhl at the 33, who then flipped the ball to a streaking Dudek, who raced into the end zone for a 34-16 halftime lead.
Then, on the second play of the third quarter, Derek Warkenthien intercepted Mitchell and returned the ball 46 yards to the Saints' 4, from where Dean scored on the next snap and it was suddenly 40-16.
"We've practiced that play six or seven times but didn't run it," Ellinghaus said of the hook-and-ladder call. "The kids were asking for it and it was right after they scored and I thought we needed a pick-me-up. We thought we needed the momentum going into the second half because St. Charles is a good second-half team."