Neuqua Valley shares the glory in win vs. Conant
In kindergarten one of the first lessons they teach you is to share. Everyone has more fun that way.
Years later it's the same on the football field, at least for Neuqua Valley.
The 11th-seeded Wildcats rolled past 22nd-seeded Conant 44-6 in the first round of the IHSA Class 8A playoffs on a cold, blustery Saturday afternoon, with eight Wildcats scoring.
Senior quarterback and South Dakota State recruit Mark Gronowski was his usual self, completing 14 of 20 passes for 179 yards and 1 touchdown apiece through the air and on the ground. He also had 106 yards rushing.
Senior receiver Patrick Hoffmann was the recipient of Gronowski's only touchdown pass, a 65-yarder on the second play of the game.
Another senior, running back Nick Pastore, contributed 98 yards on the ground and a touchdown, while juniors Trey Borske and Brandon Eng each scored on the ground.
Want more? Sophomore kicker Palmer Domschke had a pair of field goals, and another soph, Matt Williams, tackled Conant senior quarterback Matt Botello in the end zone on the Cougars' first drive.
Not bad, considering what Neuqua Valley, now 9-1, knew about Conant coming in -- almost nothing.
"We got film right away and we knew they were a run-heavy team and we had to get out in front first," Gronowski said.
That they did. After Gronowski passed to Hoffmann for a TD 53 seconds into the game, Williams recorded his safety three plays later. Two plays after that, Gronowski, operating out of the shotgun, raced up the middle and beat a pack of Cougars to the end zone for a 61-yard score.
That turned out to be all Neuqua Valley needed. Conant (6-4) got a 3-yard touchdown run from Botello with under five minutes to go and the clock running.
"Absolutely we wanted to come out and stop the run," Conant coach Bryan Stortz said. "We came out and smacked them on the first play, and we knew we needed them to make some plays in the throwing game to beat us, and that was the game plan."
Botello led the Cougars with 75 yards on 16 rushes. Junior running back Malik Frederick added 62 yards on 18 rushes.
Neuqua Valley took advantage of the big play all day. Besides Gronowski's 60-yards-plus passing and rushing touchdowns, Pastore broke a 72-yard run on second-and-10 from his own 5 late in the third quarter. Two plays later, he was in the end zone on an 8-yard run.
"We said it right at the beginning, we're just going to try to hit a big one, and everybody was blocking good, the blocks were set up perfectly and we made it happen," Pastore said.
On the extra-point attempt the snap was low, and Gronowski, the holder, faded back and found senior Jack Belksis in the left corner of the end zone.
Conant had its share of big plays as well. Botello had a 37-yard run midway through the third quarter. Junior Jeremy Carrell added a 33-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter. The latter was part of an 11-play, 77-yard drive that culminated in Botello's 3-yard scoring run.