With the Neuqua Valley football team, in the words of coach Bryan Wells, about to "run into a little bit of a grinder," i.e. consecutive Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division games with South Elgin, Metea Valley, Waubonsie Valley and Bartlett, the Wildcats had one last chance to iron out any remaining kinks when they visited winless East Aurora on Friday.
Mission accomplished as Neuqua (3-1, 1-0) sprinted to a 35-0 lead before the game was nine minutes old, led 49-0 at halftime and played the entire second half with a running clock in a 56-7 defeat of the Tomcats (0-4, 0-1).
"Our No. 1 goal was to come in and execute what we do and do it well, and I think we did," Wells said. "We only had two bad plays in the first half, a fumbled snap and they had one pretty good kick return."
A Neuqua return set an emphatic tone for the game as Joey Rhattigan took the game's opening kickoff 84 yards to paydirt for a quick 7-0 lead. The advantage doubled on East Aurora's first possession when defensive end Mike Ippolito blocked a Tomcats punt and fell on the ball in the end zone for his first touchdown since he was in seventh grade.
"The whole week we just focused on ourselves, saying that our biggest opponent was ourselves," Ippolito said. "We came out with high intensity and it obviously showed. We have to keep the same intensity next week, and with the confidence we have we're gonna come out and play well."
Jake Spinell's fumble recovery set up Neuqua's next score, Rhattigan's 15-yard run, before Jeff Evak added a 13-yard scoring dash and quarterback Nate Boudreau hit Shane Langton from 25 yards out for the quick 5-touchdown lead. Second-quarter scores came from Zach Surma on a 14-yard pass from Dylan Andrew and Valante Lemon's 19-yard run.
At the half the Tomcats had minus-14 total yards and had lost two fumbles, while quarterback Laquan Brown had been sacked twice.
East Aurora did get on the board in the fourth quarter, with Brown hitting Chris Shaw with a 5-yard touchdown pass, but the Wildcats answered on the ensuing kickoff with Evak sprinting 80 yards to close the scoring. The game was ended by mutual consequent with 6 minutes, 21 seconds to play when East Aurora's Maurice Towner was injured and needed to be taken from the field on a stretcher.
Now, it's on to that grinder that Wells was talking about, beginning with next week's visit from South Elgin.
"I'm pleased with where we're at, and we have to go get South Elgin next week," he said. "We've never beaten them on the varsity level, and to my mind that game is as much of a must-win as there is."