With the two-thirds of the regular season behind it, Neuqua Valley is feeling pretty good.
"We're playing well," Wildcats coach Bryan Wells said after Friday's 52-6 victory against District 204 rival Metea Valley in Naperville. "We put the game away. Even after their touchdown at the start of the third quarter, we came right back and answered. Exactly what you want to do in a game like that."
Not that the Wildcats are going to coast into their next rivalry game, next week's battle against Waubonsie Valley, but they have earned some confidence.
"We still have to come out every day and do work and just go hard in practice," junior running back Joey Rhattigan said.
Neuqua Valley (5-1, 3-0 Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division) emphasized the run, and Rhattigan piled up big yardage because of it, totaling 195 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"It's a Valley battle, so we wanted to go get after it and we wound up doing just that," Rhattigan said.
"That's our goal every week," Wells added. "When you have such talented backs as we do with Rhattigan and (Danny) Dudek, it's a very nice combo. We've got a couple of big tackles (juniors J.P. Quinn and Andrew Geers) playing well right now. Our tight end, Scott Simpson, I feel so bad for him because he's played so well and he doesn't have a catch yet. He's played really, really well.
"And we've got some people who can hurt you in (wide receivers Jeff) Evak and (Shane) Langdon out there. And Dudek had a couple of nice catches. We were going to run the football."
Rhattigan scored from 9 yards out on Neuqua Valley's first drive. A 30-yard Ryan Mulhern field goal made it 10-0 after a quarter. Dudek added a TD run in the second, and Nate Boudreau's 32-yard pass to Langton made it 24-0 at halftime. That set up a wacky start to the third quarter.
On the second play of the third, Mustangs sophomore quarterback Peyton Mitchell found junior Cameron Wilcox for a short pass over the middle, and Wilcox carried it 82 yards for a touchdown.
"That was a drawn-up-on-the-sideline pass," Wells said. "I know it was. And they hit, credit to them."
For the Mustangs (3-3, 1-3), things went downhill from there.
Three plays later Rhattigan scored from 32 yards out. Two plays after that safety Joshua Prescher returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown. On the next play from scrimmage, J.D. Blaydes caught the first of his 2 interceptions, setting up Dudek's 20-yard scoring run. Less than three minutes into the second half, Neuqua Valley led 45-6.
"In a big game that can be the difference in the game," Rhattigan said. "To take advantage of errors, to take advantage of mistakes that they made, it's huge."
The Wildcats' Iby Amedu finished the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown run.