Neuqua Valley looking for more balance
Neuqua Valley opened a lot of eyes by putting up 48 points against one of the state's top football teams.
Yes, the Wildcats' offense is special.
"Our ability to do different things within our offense makes us tough to stop," said Wildcats coach Bill Ellinghaus. "I do think we're a pretty special offense, but we still have a lot of work to do."
With South Dakota State-bound quarterback Mark Gronowski leading the way, the Wildcats (3-1, 1-0 DuPage Valley Conference) average 34 points a game heading into Friday's District 204 showdown at Waubonsie Valley (2-2, 0-1).
The balance in Neuqua Valley's offense makes it so effective. While Gronowski has thrown for 491 yards and 7 touchdowns at a 68 percent completion rate, running back Armani Moreno has rushed for 412 yards.
There's only one problem ... the Wildcats are also allowing 28 points a game. That includes 50 in a 2-point loss to powerhouse East St. Louis and 30 in last week's 4-point win over DeKalb.
Ellinghaus knows his team can't afford to rely on outscoring opponents.
"That's the way it's been shaping up but that's not the way we want it," Ellinghaus said. "Our defense has been really good the last several years and we need to get back to that. We're looking at everything right now in an effort to get better defensively."
As feared last Friday night, Lake Park senior running back Jordan Colon is out for the season after suffering a broken and dislocated ankle in a 22-21 overtime win over Wheaton North.
"He's such a big part of our team," said Lancers coach Chris Roll. "It was rough for our guys, but it was good that we were able to win it for Jordan."
Colon, who rushed for 88 yards in the win, keyed the fourth-quarter go-ahead drive before going down with the injury deep in the red zone. After a long delay Colon was helped off the field on a stretcher and transported to a nearby hospital.
The good news is he's expected to make a full recovery following the repair to the ankle.
For now the Lancers must find a new answer at running back. Roll said the plan was to try five players early in the week and narrow the group as game day approached.
"It's something we definitely have to figure out," Roll said.
Stop the run:
St. Francis has dominated three of four opponents. Even in its loss it lit up the scoreboard, 49-46 at Shepard. Friday is the Spartans' stiffest test yet, defending Class 4A runner-up Bishop McNamara in Kankakee. In 2018 the Fightin' Irish won 51-20.
"We remember that, but we also remember this is a great coaching staff that has been together a long time and we know that they'll be prepared to stop whatever we throw at them," said Spartans coach Bob McMillen.
Literally. Junior quarterback Tommy Rittenhouse has completed a rousing 77 percent of his passes for 882 yards and 12 touchdowns, 1 interception. His stable of receivers includes Ryan French, Jake Tangorra, Tyler Bishop, Jackson Gerard, Ben Bettag and running back Ben Radel.
What may decide the game, though, is St. Francis' defense. Starting linemen Connor Schmidt, Luke Meyer, Ryan Holleman and T.J. McMillen have been extremely sound, as have Tyler Wood and Jack McLennan. Tackles leaders Michael Bumpus and Enzo Rendina head a fast, physical group of linebackers.
Against old-fashioned power football, controlling the line of scrimmage is key.
"If we don't stop the run it's going to get ugly, as it did last year against Bishop McNamara," Bob McMillen said.
He said it:
Montini coach Mike Bukovsky said he and former Broncos coach Chris Andriano could not recall winning a game they'd trailed by 18 points in the third quarter. Montini did to beat St. Rita 45-35.
That's builds confidence.
"That was one of the first things we talked about," Bukovsky said. "When you actually do something like that, now you know you can do something like that."