Late interception seals Neuqua Valley's win over Minooka
Seeking redemption and wanting no part of an 0-2 start to the season, Neuqua Valley linebacker Easton Taylor was in the right place at the right time Friday night.
With his Wildcats clinging to a 10-6 lead and visiting Minooka on the move, the senior linebacker jumped in front of a Minooka receiver for a game-sealing interception in the final minute after the Indians (1-1) had moved inside the Wildcats territory.
Two kneeldowns later from quarterback Ryan Mohler and the Wildcats had evened their season at 1-1 with a hard-fought victory over a Minooka team that had reached the second round of the Class 8A playoffs last year and then opened this season with a 41-7 win over Rock Island.
"We heard the trumpets playing and we were ready today," said Taylor, whose 31-yard field goal late in the third quarter had given his team a 10-0 lead before the Indians made things all too interesting in the final quarter. "We talked about redemption and we didn't want them to come to our place and get a win."
After a scoreless first quarter, the Wildcats scored their first points of the year on an 8-yard keeper by Mohler with 5:27 left in the first half. Minooka had just 3 first downs in the first two quarters and tailback Joey Partridge was held to 18 yards on 7 carries.
With Taylor and defensive lineman Nick Williamson tough at the line of scrimmage, and the secondary providing great coverage, Neuqua's defense blanked Minooka for three quarters before needing some big plays late. Sophomore defensive back Andrew Hoffman had a leaping interception of a pass intended for Donavan Anderson in the red zone that stopped one fourth-quarter drive, and then Taylor's pick clinched the win for the hosts, who will have another tough test next week against Lincoln-Way East.
"I just happened to be in the right place and stepped up and got the pick, but the coaches are the ones that had us prepared," Taylor said. "It feels amazing."
Minooka got on the board in the opening minute of the fourth quarter on a 5-yard touchdown run by Efrein Ramirez but trailed 10-6 after missing the PAT.
Costly turnovers prevented them from pulling off the comeback.
"If you don't play error-free football against good teams, this is what's going to happen," Minooka coach Matt Harding said. "This was like a playoff game against a playoff caliber team and you have to play error-free. We were missing a couple kids out with injuries, which didn't help, but that's why you have a depth chart."
Indians quarterback Nathan Maul finished 14 for 24 for 123 yards, while Mohler passed for 137 yards and ran for another 58 yards for the Wildcats.