McGee's back to 100 percent, and that's a good thing for Neuqua Valley

  • Neuqua Valley's Mark Mennecke throws a pass against Wheaton Warrenville South earlier this season. Neuqua hosts Maine South Saturday in a Class 8A quarterfinal playoff game.

    Neuqua Valley's Mark Mennecke throws a pass against Wheaton Warrenville South earlier this season. Neuqua hosts Maine South Saturday in a Class 8A quarterfinal playoff game. Sean King for Shaw Media

 
By GREGG VOSS
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 11/9/2021 11:33 AM

Back in Week 4, Neuqua Valley junior running back Jaden McGee banged up his ankle in the Wildcats' first game against Naperville North, a 21-7 victory. It wasn't pretty.

"Honestly, when it first happened, I was like, This could be really bad," McGee said. "I had the downside of a tackle, and the whole pile fell on my ankle. During that game, something came out of me that I didn't think I had."

 

McGee went to an orthopedic doctor, who said the injury was thankfully not a major one. He iced it and elevated it every day, and continued playing.

But he wasn't himself, coach Bill Ellinghaus said, and wasn't until Week 8, a 34-13 win over DeKalb.

Since then, he's been the same old McGee -- the kind of guy who can break a big play at any time. In other words, he's back to 100 percent, which is a scary thought for upcoming playoff opponents.

Case in point:

Against Palatine in a Class 8A second-round playoff game on Saturday, junior quarterback Mark Mennecke found McGee on a check-down late in the first half. McGee parlayed that play into a 41-yard touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 14-0 lead at the time. Neuqua Valley went on to win the game 31-8.

"They moved to the ball really fast, so I had to keep my head on a swivel and be able to take on defenders from all over the place," he said of facing a stout Palatine defense.

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Next up for McGee and the Wildcats face another tough outing, this time at home at 5 p.m. Saturday against another 10-1 team, Maine South.

"I'd like to think he can continue to run hard," Ellinghaus said. "We've been riding him pretty hard lately. He's up for the challenge."

Defense big for ICCP:

In the IHSA state football playoffs, it's hard to go into a highly seeded opponent's home turf and thrash them. But that's exactly what sixth-seeded IC Catholic Prep did Saturday, and when you look at the 35-12 score over No. 3 seed Du-Pec Coop, you might think it was all offense, and you'd be half right.

"It was a good day," Knights coach Bill Krefft said Sunday of his team's defense. "I enjoyed watching them play (Saturday). Our entire defense played very well as a whole. They all kind of graded out high on film."

Defensive ends Antonio Richardson and Joe Marzano "did a good job squeezing and pass rushing," Krefft said, while cornerbacks Deontae Oatman and George O'Brien never let DuPec's passing game flourish.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But the guys who really stood out for Krefft were senior linebackers Connor McCoy and Jaden Mims.

McCoy had 15 tackles, including several where it was him and the DuPec running back one on one. He also played wide receiver.

Ask McCoy about all that effort, and his response is simple.

"We advanced," he said. "That's the most important thing."

McCoy gave credit to his defensive line, including Marzano and Richardson for setting up all of those tackles. In other words, everyone did their job, according to Mims, who had 10 tackles.

"I believe all 11 got to the ball," Mims said. "We all had trust in each other to execute on defense. If my D-line didn't do their job, I wouldn't have any of those tackles."

The Knights advanced to play No. 2 seed Princeton at Plunkett Field at 3 p.m. Saturday. Both teams are 10-1.

Tumilty tough for Willowbrook:

In the space of just a few minutes last Friday, Joey Tumilty turned around a game and the season fortunes for Willowbrook, the No. 21 seed in Class 7A.

Down 26-24 to fifth-seeded Moline early in the fourth quarter, Tumilty picked off a pass deep in Warriors' territory and returned it 45 yards. A few plays later, he connected with receiver Nick Mabutas on a 56-yard touchdown pass off a jet sweep. That effort helped Willowbrook (8-3) to go on to win 30-26.

Some players might be a little intimidated in a situation like that, especially being down to a higher seed. Not Tumilty. He said it was fun.

"Everyone was into it," he said. "The crowd, my teammates. Everyone was."

But he had to make those big plays, of course, and doing so reminded him of a quote from Archie Griffin that his dad often uses. It's not the size of the dog in the fight ... it's the size of the fight in the dog. That's the line he gives youngsters who want to make plays like he did against Moline someday.

"Just work hard," he said. "Chase your dreams. Have a lot of fight. Now matter how big you are, go out and believe."

Defense paces Falcons:

Willowbrook will host fourth-seeded Wheaton North (10-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals. The Falcons made a few big plays of their own last Friday. Senior defensive ends Chuck Neidballa and Devon Neal hit on back-to-back sacks deep in their own territory against Hoffman Estates, two of six they put on Hawks' quarterback Aidan Cyr in the game.

"We knew they had some great skill positions, but we got after them on the front," Neidballa said. "We were able to dominate the front and let our back seven do it all. We contained their good athletes.

Added Neal: "Hoffman has some great athletes and coming into the game, we knew we'd have to be physical and move fast. We had to outphysical these guys and be fundamental. I think we carried out our plan well."

They'll have to do the same against Willowbrook.

"They have a great program there," Neidballa said of the Warriors. "They have a winning culture. When we play our best football, we feel like we can beat anybody."

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