Neuqua Valley's defense dominates Oswego
Mark Mennecke at times goes against his better angels when prolonging runs through contact.
He clearly can take the hits, though. And dish them out.
At the end of a 32-yard scramble late in the first half Friday, Neuqua Valley's 6-foot, 175-pound senior quarterback positively trucked a defender.
"During practice the whole summer I wasn't allowed to get touched," Mennecke said. "It felt good to get out there and hit somebody."
The Wildcats took a few hits Friday, but were none the worse for wear. Mennecke and the Neuqua Valley offense overcame three first-half turnovers, and he threw for two touchdowns. A dominating defense did the rest in a 28-3 season-opening win at Oswego.
"The first half, we had the three turnovers, we went into the locker room and said just keep pushing through," said Mennecke, who was 5-for-13 for 76 yards and also ran for 70 yards. "We had a lot of ups and downs but we overcame them all. The defense was amazing. Three points for four quarters, shout out to the defense, they played amazing."
Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus would probably prefer that his star QB would be a little more judicious with his runs. Mennecke took a big hit along the sidelines Friday after another long scramble.
But Mennecke's legs make him special.
He eluded the rush and threw a perfect strike over double coverage for a 36-yard TD pass to Grant Larkin for the game's first score. In the third quarter, flushed out of the pocket to the right, Mennecke threw back across his body for a 12-yard TD to Carter Stare for a commanding 21-3 lead.
"I'll go on the record as saying I wish he [Mennecke] would not be the guy who would try to run people over, in fact I did tell him when you got a shot to get out of bounds, get out of bounds," Ellinghaus said. "But he's a fierce competitor. He's not going to listen when he thinks he has a chance to go knock someone over. He's a competitor. Sometimes it's going to get him in trouble, but more times than not we're going to be happy with the results."
Neuqua, a team with 17 starters back from a Class 8A quarterfinalist, will take this result despite the early miscues.
Jaden McGee ran for 151 yards on 25 carries with a 1-yard TD for the game's final score, and Stare caught the TD and returned a punt 65 yards for a second TD. The defense did the rest. Oswego managed just a 38-yard Tanner Stumpenhorst field goal in the first minute of the second quarter, got just 32 yards rushing from its running backs and didn't complete a pass in the second half.
Michigan recruit Deakon Tonielli was held to three catches for 37 yards. Neuqua's Justen Crawford, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound senior defensive lineman, had three sacks as part of the effort.
"Our defense is going to be really, really good," Ellinghaus said. "We've been really high on our defense all year. They play with a lot of energy and a lot of intensity. Our defensive line got after it."
Oswego hung in there for a half, with a number of opportunistic plays defensively.
Brady Hayslett and Braedon Hellinger had interceptions, Hellinger's coming in the end zone in the final seconds of the first half, and defensive lineman Ryan Emmick recovered a fumble. But the Panthers lost five starters to injury, including starting running back Nick Scott and returning all-conference defensive end Taiden Thomas, who had two sacks before his injury.
"It's not an excuse, they beat us, but I've never seen so many key kids go down," Oswego coach Brian Cooney said. "Five starters who were in one play, and not to be seen again. The kids took the next man up mentality, but those kids aren't the ones getting the reps in practice."
Oswego QB Cruz Ibarra hit on a few long third-down passes to Scott, Tonielli and Jordan Katzenbach in the first half, but finished 7-for-30 for 111 yards. Oswego missed its last 16 pass attempts.
"We just got no traction offensively," Cooney said. "We lost some key dudes, but we're going to have to figure it out. The road doesn't get any easier next week."