WHEATON – Neuqua Valley quarterback Mark Mennecke tapped center Ryan Schaefer ever so slightly.
With 8:30 remaining in the fourth quarter Friday in Wheaton, Mennecke took the sudden snap. Tthe Wheaton Warrenville South defense was just getting set, but that was all the time – and space – the two-year starting signal caller needed running straight up the A-gap.
Mennecke saw daylight, scampering in for a 54-yard touchdown to put the capper on the Wildcats’ decisive 26-7 win over the Tigers.
”It was a pressure call,” said Mennecke, who was 9-for-16 for 188 passing yards and two touchdowns, one passing and one running. “…It’s a silent count, so they were not ready. That hole was ginormous. I knew it was going to be a big gain right from the start.”
The Wildcats‘ defense held the Tigers scoreless until the final 14.4 seconds of the game as Matt Sommerdyke finally found Eric Swanson for a 14-yard touchdown.
Neuqua’s defensive line, in particular, harassed Sommerdyke with four sacks. That included a big one by junior lineman Cabe Willis with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter, which backed the Tigers out of the red zone. It forced a 40-yard field goal attempt that went wide.
“Defensively, it’s been unbelievable; It’s been unbelievable,” Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “That is a great, great defensive performance right there. We challenged our kids a little bit last week; the defensive line to get after it. Boy oh boy, did they show up today. So proud of those guys.”
The Wildcats (2-0) took a 13-0 lead into the half. Neuqua Valley just needed one play on its second possession of the game to find the end zone with Mennecke‘s 98-yard bomb to Carter Sessa. The extra point was blocked for the 6-0 lead. With 42 seconds remaining in the half, Grant Larkin (six catches, 57 yards, two rushing touchdowns) slipped into the end zone for the 1-yard score.
Larkin again scored on a 23-yard run to open the fourth quarter for the 20-0 lead, and Mennecke‘s big run put the exclamation point on Neuqua’s convincing win.
”From last year to this year, I think we’ve grown as a team,” Mennecke said. “The receivers corps, we’ve come together more and I think that really helps on the field.”
“[Mennecke] is just mature and is a leader,“ Ellinghaus said. “He‘s doing a better and better job at practice and the kids are rallying around him a little more. That’s what leaders do. That’s what two-year starters do. The fact he’s been there for two years, it speaks volumes to where he’s at maturity wise.”
The Wildcats had four running backs touch the ball and ran for a combined 119 yards.
“We’re using a lot of guys still…we really feel like we got something with keeping some fresh legs out there,” Ellinghaus continued. “I thought Jaden McGee ran really, really hard. Our receivers, they’ve been special…Sessa and Larkin; Miles had a huge catch for us on a flag route…we feel really good where we’re at [our skill positions are at].”
Sommerdyke finished 19-for-31 with 173 passing yards and one touchdown. Brandon Bell had five catches for 42 yards for WW South.
”In the first half, the defense played well, Tigers coach Sean Norris said. “They gave up a couple big plays, but they were able to hold tight. Offensively, we just couldn’t get anything going. We had some guys injured coming into the game, which is not an excuse, because those next guys need to be up.”
”We couldn’t protect the quarterback; we couldn’t execute on some of the plays we needed to,” Norris continued. “[Neuqua] executed. Give it to them. They executed when they needed to. I told our guys this is a great chance for us to get better, to see this as a turning point in our season and improve from there.”