Win makes Neuqua Valley eligible for playoffs
Fifty-two weeks later, the Neuqua Valley enters the final week of the season knowing that a win will clinch a playoff spot, while a loss will have them hoping they possess enough playoff points.
The Wildcats moved to 5-3 on Friday night with a 41-14 DuPage Valley Conference defeat of Metea Valley. They will prepare for a pivotal game with visiting Naperville North next Friday.
"It's win or go home next week, like it was win or go home tonight, and it will be win or go home for the rest of the season if we make the playoffs," said Neuqua Valley running back Will Chevalier. "We'll do our recovery, get in the film room on Monday, trust our systems and our teammates, and then hopefully at the end of the night next week we'll be celebrating a win."
There's added incentive for Chevalier to be ready since he missed last year's playoff-denying season-ending loss to Glenbard North with an injury -- but he promises he'll be raring to go against Naperville North.
"My main focus was to stay healthy," he said. "After last year there's no worse feeling than watching your teammates play and you're on the sideline without your pads on."
Chevalier had quite a tuneup. He finished the night with 144 yards and 4 touchdowns, 3 rushing in the first half of 3, 20 and 48 yards, and a 76-yard kickoff return to open the second half that gave the Wildcats (5-3, 2-1) a comfortable 28-0 lead.
The Mustangs (1-7, 0-3) were offered no offensive breathing room in the first half as the Neuqua defense led by Matt Quinn, Grant Pashkowsky and Jake Boumans limited them to 49 total yards. Metea could advance no farther than its own 38-yard line on any of its five first-half possessions with all of them ending in punts from quarterback Max Reeves.
"Their defense came out super strong, as did their offense," Reeves said. "Their running back (Chevalier) is great and we just couldn't stop their ground game."
After the Wildcats increased their lead to 34-0 on Mark Gronowski's 16-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Hoffmann, the Mustangs did show some offensive life. Building off Amarian Wilborn's 32-yard kickoff return , C.J. Wilcox followed a 13-yard gain with a 25-yard scoring run. Then, after Jack Belskis recovered a Neuqua fumble, Reeves connected with Elijah Wright on a 42-yard scoring pass to make it 34-14. The Wildcats closed the scoring, however, when Brandt Stare returned the ensuing kickoff 74 yards for a touchdown.
Despite the disparity in their records, according to Reeves the Mustangs will also be playing for something next week when they host Waubonsie Valley next week.
"We just want to win one more, especially against Waubonsie," he said. "It's gonna be my last game and I just want to get one more 'W' and we're gonna work hard all week to do it."