Neuqua Valley downs Palatine to reach 8A quarterfinals
Neuqua Valley football coach Bill Ellinghaus brought his team up to Palatine Saturday night attempting to sink a Pirate gridiron ship that had been smoothly sailing since an 0-2 start, having won 7 of its last 8 heading into the Class 8A second-round playoff match.
Thanks to its ability to overcome some early game jitters the third-seeded Wildcats (10-1) were able to overcame the host school 31-8 at Chic Anderson Stadium to advance to next weekend's quarterfinal round versus No. 6 Maine South (10-1), a 21-18 winner over Plainfield North (8-3) in Park Ridge Saturday afternoon.
"We always challenge our kids every week (in practice) and they really rallied around it and they really came up hungry this week," Ellinghaus said. "It wasn't a one-day effort, it was an all-week effort."
After seeing an early scoring chance go by the wayside on a fumble deep in Pirate territory on its first possession, Neuqua took advantage of a short field where it marched 39 yards to get on the board first on a successful rollout by quarterback Mark Mennecke on a 4th-and-goal from the 1 to make it 7-0.
Neuqua made it 14-0 before quarter one's end as Mennecke (12-for-14, 131 yards) found Jaden McGee on a check-down that he took 41 yards to pay dirt with seven ticks left on the clock. Palmer Domschke's 37-yard field goal as time expired gave the Wildcats a 17-0 advantage at the break.
After a scoreless third, the visitors put the game out of reach on a 7 yard Mennecke scoring connection to Carter Sessa just 12 ticks into the final period of play. Mennecke then put the cherry on top of the Wildcats' scoring sundae with his second TD run of the evening (3 yards) to make it 31-0 with 5:34 left.
Palatine (7-4) was able to get on the scoreboard with just 29 seconds left when Danny Hopper connected on an 18-yard halfback option pass to Nate Branch followed by a successful 2-point Grant Dersnah connection to Jacob Bostick.
The game marked Iowa commit Bostick's return to the field after a Week 3 knee injury versus Evanston had sidelined him. He finished with 3 catches for 12 yards.
Pirates coach Corey Olson paid homage to his 22 seniors including Hopper, Bostick, and defensive standout Mitch Larkin as they helped bring the program back to the postseason for the first time since 2017 and a share of their first Mid-Suburban West title since 2016.
"There's no question that they led the way and being able to have two playoff games gives an opportunity to the pillars of our program to be shown to the underlevels so that they can carry that stuff on."
Meanwhile, McGee (25 carries, 111 yards) cherishes the opportunity for he his teammates to play once more together.
"Honestly, it's a blessing," he said. "All glory to God. I came into here thinking I can't let this be our last game and another week of football is what we got."