Gronowski, Neuqua Valley get the job done against Naperville Central
That was Mark Gronowski's ball.
And he was in no mood for sharing.
Neuqua Valley's near eight-minute drive in the fourth quarter culminated in the senior quarterback's go-ahead touchdown in Friday's 19-14 victory over visiting Naperville Central that likely determined the DuPage Valley Conference football championship.
"Our game plan every game is to try and control the clock and keep the offense on the field as much as possible," said Gronowski, who completed 21 of 29 passes for 230 yards. "We just kept with our power run game and took off as much clock as we could. We've been practicing and doing it in games. We just had to do our job."
The Wildcats (5-1, 3-0), who became playoff eligible with the win, got the ball with 8:57 left at its 18-yard line, trailing the Redhawks (2-4, 2-1) 14-13. Neuqua Valley unleashed a 14-play drive featuring four completed passes by Gronowski, 10 run plays and a pass interference call against Naperville Central.
Gronowski's 12-yard pass to Greg Teresky set up the Wildcats at the 3-yard line. Two plays later Gronowski stretched the ball over the goal line to put his team ahead to stay with 1:19 left.
The Wildcats pooched the ensuing kickoff, which was fumbled by the Redhawks and recovered by Carl Reina to wrap up Neuqua Valley's first victory over the Redhawks since 2016.
"This was really special because it's been a couple years since we beat them," Reina said. "It feels really good to say the least."
Despite running only 29 plays compared to Neuqua Valley's 70, Naperville Central stayed close and took a 14-13 third-quarter lead on a 66-yard touchdown pass from Sam Jackson, who threw for 173 yards, to Jadon Thompson. The Redhawks, however, couldn't take advantage of their few other opportunities.
"In a game like this you can't make the mistakes we made," said Redhawks coach Mike Stine, whose team likely needs to win its final three games to make the playoffs. "There were opportunities there, but they were the better team tonight. It's one at a time from here on out."
Neuqua Valley took a 10-7 halftime lead on Gronowski's 14-yard scoring pass to Patrick Hoffmann and the first of two field goals by Palmer Domschke. Jackson threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Bo Turner to give the Redhawks a brief 7-3 lead.
"We knew we needed this game to put ourselves in good position to try to go win a conference championship," said Wildcats coach Bill Ellinghaus, whose team faces Metea Valley and Naperville North to close DVC play.