Neuqua Valley clinches DVC title outright
Neuqua Valley clinched its first outright DuPage Valley Conference championship with a 45-14 Week 8 road win against Naperville North.
"It means a lot. The DVC is a great conference, it's been a great conference," said Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus. "The first time to win it outright means a lot. It means a lot to our team, it means a lot to our football program, to be able to put that first one under our belts and win it outright."
The Wildcats (7-1, 5-0) were led by a strong rushing attack and an opportunistic defensive effort as they turned a tight halftime lead into a dominating win by punishing the Huskies (2-6, 2-3) with a physical second-half performance by their offensive line.
"The run picked up in the second half," said Wildcats running back Armani Moreno. "We know it all starts with the line, it all starts with the front, the big five, we get those guys going, we get me going, and we're gonna be very successful."
The Neuqua running game was spearheaded by Moreno and quarterback Mark Gronowski, who both ran for more than 100 yards.
"Armani is a good, strong runner," Ellinghaus said. "Then you get Mark going as well, so you get kind of a dual threat back there."
The Wildcats offensive combined for 257 rushing yards throughout the evening, allowing Neuqua Valley to take control of the pace in the second half and keep the Huskies offense off the field.
"Their defense was on the field for a long time," Ellinghaus added. "So we felt that we could wear them out, which is what kinda happened."
The Wildcats took advantage of a few key takeaways and a successful surprise onside kick attempt that allowed their offense to run 41 plays in the second half.
"We know our defense is young and we're battling and we're fighting," said Huskies coach Sean Drendel. "They really came out in the second half and took it to us a little bit. So there is a reason they're DVC champs and I have a lot of respect for their program."
Despite being stifled in the second half, the Huskies offense connected on several big plays and flashed the ability to go score for score with the Wildcats potent offense.
"We thought that we could create some mismatches and make some good plays and I think we did," Drendel said. "We just didn't do it for long enough or well enough."
"It's unfortunate," Drendel added. "If we score right before half, maybe it's a little bit different, but our kids gave a great effort and we're super proud of them."
Meanwhile, the Wildcats will be using Week 9 to prepare for what they hope is an extended postseason run.
"It's awesome," Moreno said. "It's a great feeling, going 7-1 … we feel really good right now going into the playoffs."