A Neuqua Valley first: Wildcats win at Naperville Central
Neuqua Valley had just broken its postgame huddle and players were beginning to disperse when coach Bill Ellinghaus called them back. He wanted them to know that their 14-7 victory over Naperville Central meant more than a key win over a DuPage Valley Conference rival.
It was also the first time the Wildcats (4-1, 2-0) had won on the Redhawks' home field. The coach's news was greeted with an enthusiastic cheer by a team that somehow still had energy to celebrate.
Neuqua used a stifling defense and an opportunistic offense to hand Naperville Central (3-2, 1-1) its first DVC loss. The Wildcats forced three turnovers and benefited from two muffed punt returns, while holding the Redhawks to under 100 yards of total offense and no scores.
"We're not the biggest people on the field, especially matched up against these guys tonight," said Neuqua defensive lineman Justen Crawford, who recovered a fumble and a muffed punt. "But our defense is solely focused on speed, 100 percent speed, and causing problems for the quarterback."
Naperville Central's only points came on a 54-yard interception return by Logan Ellison. The Redhawks offense ran only 11 plays in Neuqua territory, and six of those came on the final drive that was aided by two personal foul penalties.
"Our defense has been really, really good," Ellinghaus said. "They pitched a shutout tonight. We gave up the pick-6, but that's not on them. Our defense is absolutely balling out."
Neuqua capitalized on an early interception to get on the scoreboard first. Peyton Kuhl picked off the pass from Chris McCormack to give the Wildcats the ball at the Redhawks' 44.
Nine plays later, quarterback Ryan Mohler rolled to his left on fourth down to score from the 3.
Trailing 7-0 midway through the second quarter, the Redhawks' fortunes changed.
Ellison's touchdown return tied the game with 5:15 left in the half. He caught the ball in stride and used a host of blockers to reach the end zone.
The Wildcats regained the lead during a thoroughly dominant third quarter when they ran 18 plays for 70 yards compared to only three plays for 4 yards by Naperville Central.
Their opening drive of the second half was extended on the first of two muffed punts by Tyler Dodd. Mohler capped the drive with a 17-yard scoring strike to tight end Ryan Mascari, who was wide open down the middle on the play-action pass.
The defense took it from there, essentially ending the game when Justin Dutkiewicz sacked McCormack on fourth down with under one minute to play.
Neuqua overcame more than 100 yards in penalties, including a disputed pass interference call on Naperville Central's final drive.
"Our whole defense, we're all thinking about next play, next play, next play," Crawford said. "We're never dwelling on mistakes or anything. We don't get mad about (penalties). We just move on and play football."