NAPERVILLE – They call it “Trick Play Thursday” at Neuqua Valley, because that’s when head coach Bill Ellinghaus unveils the week’s special wrinkles.
To help prepare the Wildcats for Friday’s DuPage Valley Conference showdown with Naperville North – Class 8A’s No. 4-ranked team and the crew that ruined Neuqua’s undefeated season in Week 9 last year – Ellinghaus installed a halfback option pass from backup running back Matt Chevalier to quarterback Ryan Mohler.
They practiced it just once Thursday, but that was enough for it to become a difference-maker Friday in south Naperville.
Nursing a six-point lead and facing a fourth-and-5 situation, Chevalier’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Mohler with 21 seconds left in the third quarter gave Neuqua Valley breathing room on the way to a 29-16 victory in the DVC opener for both teams.
“All the other guys on the offense didn’t know that play was going to happen,” Chevalier said. “Just me and the quarterback. I felt a lot of butterflies, took the pitch and looked back for Mohler. … It was definitely a huge play when he caught that pass.”
“I see the defensive end come in, and there’s just so much green grass [down the left sideline],” Mohler said. “I’ve just got to take it and go.”
But let’s not get it twisted. The Wildcats didn’t win because they got cute — they won because they got physical.
Playing without three-year starting quarterback Mark Mennecke (Lisfranc fracture) and starting tailback Jared McGee (shoulder), Neuqua Valley (3-1, 1-0 DVC) junked the spread formations it ran earlier this season and got back to meat-and -potatoes football.
Junior Silvano Spatafore, a powerful 5-foot-6, 175-pound junior, made the most of his first varsity start by running 33 times for 232 yards and his first two touchdowns. Time and again, he bashed the left side behind 6-3, 270-pound left tackle Aidan Nash, 6-0, 250-pound left guard Nicholas Rush and 215-pound center Ryan Schaefer.
“We needed to play physical,” Ellinghaus said. “We just wanted to get back to the basics. I think our linemen played huge tonight against a bigger Naperville North team. But our linemen are scrappy, and they did a phenomenal job of moving the line of scrimmage.”
Meanwhile, Northwestern-bound quarterback Aidan Gray rarely had opportunities to take big shots down the field for the Huskies. He finished 17 of 28 for 146 yards. The Huskies (3-1, 0-1) owned a 135-90 advantage in total yards after one quarter, but Neuqua Valley outgained the visitors 351-96 the rest of the way.
“They were more physical than us up front,” said Naperville North coach Sean Drendel. “And they wanted it more than we did. That’s everybody. That’s their [coaching] staff vs. our staff. That’s their players vs. our players.
“Must’ve been more important to them tonight.”