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Waubonsie Valley's Dylan Warden scrambles from the Neuqua Valley defense during their game at North Central College on Friday, October 5, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
With both teams stacking up wins each week, anticipation for Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley’s Oct. 5 meeting kept building and building as the season went on.
Neuqua Valley’s 35-34, double-overtime victory over previously undefeated Waubonsie Valley that night shone a light on how heated the rivalry has become.
With both teams entering uncharted territory five weeks after that October meeting, the Warriors and Wildcats find themselves in one another’s way once again, with fourth-seeded Waubonsie playing at top-seeded Neuqua at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
With the stakes raised even higher for a berth in a Class 8A state semifinal, the first postseason meeting between the District 204 rivals should provide similar intensity and not much guesswork.
“Both teams are gonna play to their strengths. You’re not gonna change a whole lot at this point of the season,” Waubonsie Valley coach Paul Murphy said. “We’re into Week 12 and we know what they’re good at and they know what we’re good at. It really boils down to players going out and executing.”
As both Waubonsie Valley’s Austin Guido and Neuqua Valley’s Joey Rhattigan have demonstrated throughout the entire season, both offenses can run the ball very proficiently within the framework of their respective offenses.
“The people who want to turn that into the story, it’s certainly a great storyline,” Neuqua coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “Those two kids are having phenomenal years and I don’t think it will ever be one against the other because usually in a game like this, superstars do their thing and it’s the supporting cast that ends up making the difference.”
With skill players likes Waubonsie’s Dylan Warden and Troy Fumagalli and Neuqua’s Dylan Andrew and Mike Dudek, both teams offer solid supporting casts, with the Warriors and Wildcats averaging 39.7 and 45.2 points offensively, respectively.
While the offenses have received much of the credit for each team’s success, their defenses may prove to be even more pivotal.
With a bend-not-break mentality while playing off its explosive offense, Neuqua Valley’s defense forced three Waubonsie Valley turnovers in the October meeting.
Emerging with a 44-33 win over defending Class 8A state champion Bolingbrook last week, the Wildcats’ defense stopped Aaron Bailey and the Raiders’ offense just enough while their offense persevered through some various difficulties despite getting 344 yards and five TDs from Rhattigan.
“That’s what I’m most proud of this group for is the resilience to just continue to fight, no matter what the circumstance,” Ellinghaus said. “I mean, they keep fighting, they keep fighting, they keep fighting. Because of it, they’re able to persevere in the end and that’s what so fun to watch. No matter what the score is, I don’t feel like we’re ever out of it and these kids certainly feel that way. Both playoff games now, we’ve gone down 7-0 and came right back.”
Since getting handed its lone loss of the season back on Oct. 5, Waubonsie Valley (10-1) has won four straight games by a combined margin of 156-27 over opponents East Aurora, Metea Valley, Proviso West and Oak Park-River Forest.
With memories of turning the ball over three times, allowing Neuqua Valley to score on a 4th-and-11 that sent the game into overtime and the botched two-point conversion in the second overtime, the Warriors have faith that Saturday’s outcome may very well be different than Oct. 5 if they play the way they know how to play.
“I think at this point, when you’re in the Elite Eight, that’s the attitude you gotta have,” Murphy said. “I think all teams have that. Everybody knows that the turnovers this time of year are gonna be a very big issue. You gotta flip them.”
This year’s first meeting and Neuqua Valley’s 10-4 series edge aside, the roads both programs have taken to this point are undeniable.
With Neuqua Valley off to the first 11-0 start in program history, making its first state quarterfinal appearance in the process, and Waubonsie Valley in the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1994, the significance of Saturday’s game is not lost on anyone.
“Everybody wanted to see this rematch, so I think the community is very excited about it,” Ellinghaus said. “I think our schools are both very excited about it. I know I’m excited about it. I’m sure Waubonsie’s excited about it, you know, with their kids and their team. Our team’s excited.”