Huntley did not want to stumble into the postseason even though it was all but assured a spot in the 256-team field before Friday night's Fox Valley Conference football game with visiting McHenry.
And beating the playoff-bound Warriors 44-14 has the Red Raiders believing they will be a tough out in Class 8A when the playoffs start next weekend.
"One hundred percent, I would definitely say we are the most dangerous 6-3 team in the state," said Huntley junior quarterback Eric Mooney after he had 331 total yards with 3 rushing touchdowns and one passing. "The three we lost we didn't play good games. It's as simple as that."
But those losses for the Red Raiders (6-3, 6-2) were to some of the state's best teams in unbeaten Prairie Ridge and West Aurora and 8-1 Cary-Grove. They won their third consecutive game and scored 40-plus points for the fifth time this season against a resurgent McHenry (6-3, 5-3) program on its way to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"It's a huge momentum booster for us," said Huntley senior Tony Bucaro, who wreaked havoc defensively up front with Illinois-bound Olalere Oladipo, Caleb Jones and sophomore Alex Pitrone. "That's a really good team with a great offense but we kept pushing hard."
That led to 4 turnovers by the Warriors with Tyler Koop's interception setting up a 21-yard touchdown run by Mooney (12 carries, 147 yards) that gave the Red Raiders a lead they never lost 5:02 into the game. Ben Stevens and Joe Boland also had interceptions and they contained dangerous Gio Purpura, who came into the game with 858 yards rushing, to 67 on 12 carries.
"I felt after that opening drive we came out and punched them right in the mouth and kept doing it," Bucaro said. "'We definitely came together as a whole."
But a 29-yard loss off a bad punt snap set up Purpura's 5-yard touchdown that got McHenry within 7-6 with 2:21 left in the first. Huntley responded with 37 unanswered points which started with Chase Zion's 24-yard field goal.
Senior Carter Beaudette (20 carries, 103 yards) scored from 33 yards for the first of his 3 touchdown runs. Mooney (9-for-11 passing, 184 yards) hit Brian O'Mara four times for 63 yards as Huntley drove 56 yards in just 61 seconds, and overcame an 8-yard loss on a botched snap, to take a 23-6 lead on Mooney's 1-yard run 13 seconds before halftime.
And Alec Coss also had a juggling catch for a 65-yard touchdown from Mooney in the third quarter. Huntley finished with 435 yards of total offense behind Cody Gaynor, Justin Domingo, Austin Zeis, Joseph Wilson and Andrew Pertzborn.
"Something we've been trying to put together is a four-quarter game," said first-year Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak. "This week we were able to fire on all cylinders.
"We have a lot of potential. We've played some tough teams that we've lost to and we'd like to play those guys again. We're excited about the playoffs."
With good reason as Huntley qualified for a third consecutive postseason trip for the first time in program history.
"We have a lot of playoff points, but nothing was guaranteed so we needed to win this game to make the playoffs," Mooney said.
"We have definitely come together and learned from our mistakes from our previous games," Bucaro said. "I feel like we're a pretty good 6-3 team. Losing to Prairie Ridge, they're an unbelievable team. Teams shouldn't underestimate us in the playoffs."