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Desean Brown (right) of Naperville North grabs a fourth down pass in front of Neuqua Valley defender Danny Festa. Brown scored the first touchdown of the game on the play. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Looking back at his team’s first meeting with Neuqua Valley nine weeks ago, Naperville North coach Sean Drendel was frank in describing it.
“I think last time we didn’t even have a chance to be in the game because we made too many mistakes,” he said.
Naperville North jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Aug. 24 after opening with an eight-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 36-yard TD pass from Johnny Brown to DeSean Brown. But not much else went right for the Huskies.
A Mike Dudek blocked punt and a Nolan Dean fumble recovery for a TD were two lowlights for Naperville North as Neuqua Valley showed glimpses of things to come in opening the season with a 43-20 victory over Naperville North.
Nine weeks later, with Neuqua Valley sitting with its first 9-0 record and as one of two No. 1 seeds in Class 8A, 16th-seeded Naperville North gets an opportunity to redeem itself from that disappointing showing in August during the first postseason meeting between the two programs.
“I don’t think they’re gonna be a lot different, as far as the approach of the game. I mean, they’re definitely an improved football team from where they were Week 1,” Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “But we’re an improved football team, as well. So I think the game itself is gonna be a much better football game, as far as the caliber of play.”
Behind a multi-dimensional offense averaging 44.1 points a game and a defense that has played off that explosive offense well throughout the entire year, the Wildcats enter Friday night looking to secure the first 10-win season in program history.
Joey Rhattigan, who ran for 157 yards and two TDs against the Huskies in Week 1, has 1,265 rushing yards and 22 TDs on the season while Dylan Andrew has shown great efficiency in throwing 14 touchdowns and just one interception.
“Their quarterback (Andrew) has been outstanding and, you know, he’s their leader. I think their team follows him,” Drendel said. “I mean, he’s done a great job and when you can turn around and hand it to someone like Rhattigan every once in a while, that’s not a bad thing either. So, you know, they got a lot of nice pieces.”
Seeded 16th within the Class 8A bracket for the second time in four years, Naperville North (5-4) has progressed throughout the year despite having just one victory over a playoff team —Thornton.
But given their strong offensive line and a defense that has gotten better as the year as moved along, the Huskies aren’t going to deviate from their game plan with the memory of the 43-20 Week 1 loss to the Wildcats in mind.
“We’re gonna do what we do. We may throw the ball a little bit more than we did the first time, but we’re a running team and our offensive line has done a good job all year,” Drendel said. “We’re gonna let them lead us.”