Defense lifts Neuqua Valley over DeKalb
In a game in which both offenses struggled holding onto the ball, it came down to the defense and special teams of the Neuqua Valley and DeKalb football teams.
The Wildcats returned two interceptions for scores, the difference in a 28-21 road win over the Barbs on Friday despite three touchdowns, one on a 99-yard kickoff return, for Toriano Tate during the DuPage Valley Conference matchup.
Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus said he can't remember if the Wildcats (3-0, 3-0) had ever returned two picks in the same game for scores before.
"You can't say enough about these kids defensively," Ellinghaus said. "You can't ask or more. Two touchdowns on defense, I can't remember the last time we had two touchdowns on INTs. ... It's been forever. It was a really, really huge game for our defense today. We had just enough tonight against a really, really tough team."
The Wildcats broke open a tie game with 5:33 left in the fourth quarter when Christian Allen jumped a Trenton Kyler pass on a third-and-8, returning it 28 yards to the house to go up 28-21.
"Anytime you turn the ball over it hurts, anytime there's pick-sixes," DeKalb coach Keith Snyder said. "But that wasn't on Trenton. There was some miscommunication on both of those. And the last one, he just had to throw it up there and make something happen."
DeKalb wasted no time going downfield, reaching a first-and-goal at the 10 thanks in part to Kyler finding Ethan Cano for 35 yards.
But that first-and-goal at the 10 become a fourth-and-goal at the 28, and Kyler was picked for the third time in the game, this time by Payton Matthews.
The Wildcats also had three turnovers in the game as well, fumbling twice and throwing an interception.
The Wildcats came out of a 14-14 halftime tie -- they only had 117 yards of total offense at the break -- going 63 yards for a quick score when sophomore quarterback Mark Mennecke found Carter Sessa for 30 yards.
But the Barbs answered on the next drive to tie things back up at 21 when Kyler found Toriano Tate -- who earlier had a huge kick return for a touchdown for the Barbs -- on a 38-yard streak on third-and-5 for a score.
"Toriano did some really good things," Snyder said. "He's a good football player but he's got a lot to learn. He's got to grow up, and keep growing and maturing. You saw glimpses of what he can do, but he's got to keep maturing and growing up. He's going to be a senior here in two weeks."
Neuqua Valley's first interception came on a fourth-and-2 from the Barbs' 19. DeKalb had already converted one fourth on the drive, but sophomore Nicolas Lendino jumped in front of Kyler's pass, returning it from the 2 for the touchdown, the first score of the game.
Lendino said it was his first interception of the year.
"I was doing my film this week and I understand what was coming," Lendino said. "And after I caught the ball, I'm going to be honest, I was freaking out. Everyone else on defense, they ran down with me, gave me a bunch of blocks. It was amazing. I wouldn't have been able to get to the end zone without the rest of my defense."
The Barbs were down seven as time was winding down in the second, but Tate sparked the Barbs with a 99-yard kickoff return for the score, taking the ball straight up the middle, cutting right, and tying the game up at 14 with 4 seconds left in the half.
DeKalb had answered Lendino's score with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a 12-yard pass from Kyler to Tate. Tate had earlier extended the drive on a third-and-8, going up in a triple team to make a one-handed catch.
The Wildcats scored with 20 seconds left to retake the lead with two straight passes from Mennecke to Justin Nonnenmann, the last 15 yards for the touchdown and the short-lived 14-7 lead before Tate's return.
DeKalb ran 71 total plays in the game or 332 yards, while the Wildcats had 302 total yards on 41 plays.
"I mean I got to give a lot of credit to our defense," Ellinghaus said. "Our defense played really, really big. They came up with big plays tonight. And that's part of the game is a big play. We gave up a big play on special teams and we came right back and our defense played really, really tough opponent and a team that was really grinding it out."
Mennecke was 9 for 17 for 122 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, plus ran for 67 yards. Armani Moreno ran for 74 yards on 14 carries for the Wildcats.
Tate had six catches for 100 yards, plus 19 carries or 61 yards. Tucker Ikens had 15 carries for 61 yards for the Barbs, while Kyler was 12 for 26 for two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Snyder said he was very proud of the way his team improved after a 41-7 loss to Naperville Central last week.
"We played light years better than a week ago," Snyder said. "We challenged our kids this week that this was going to be a gut-check game, and I thought our kids fought for our quarters. They really battled. I couldn't be more proud. This is the most proud of them I've been all season. We came up a little bit short but the fight they had for four quarters was just amazing."