Neuqua Valley goes to ground, grinds out win over Metea

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Third-year Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus isn’t afraid to acknowledge his team’s need to establish the run in order to be successful.

Talk about practicing what you preach.

Spurred on by an opening drive that took 9:11 off the first-quarter clock, Neuqua Valley used a ball-control offense to officially clinch a spot in the 32-team Class 8A postseason field courtesy of a 28-14 victory Friday night over Metea Valley in Aurora.

Indiana State-bound quarterback Broc Rutter led the Wildcats down the field on a 19-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 5-yard touchdown run from senior running back Dominick Muoghalu to establish the tone.

While Muoghalu’s short TD run finished off that long and sustained drive to start the game, Neuqua (6-3, 6-1) got a season-high 143 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 33 carries from senior running back Charlie Hunter to help the program clinch a piece of its third straight Upstate Eight Valley title.

“I mean, my offensive line was just awesome. The scheme we had set up in the first half was working. They were getting to second level, making lots of room, holes to run through,” Hunter said.

The Wildcats got 96 yards and two touchdowns in the first half from Hunter.

Hunter’s first TD run, a 7-yard run midway through the second quarter, capped a quick three-play scoring drive for the Wildcats that was set up by a blocked punt and return from Liam Bunge.

“Definitely knew we needed a stop. Our offense had just pushed it in, so we really needed to get a turnover and I shot the gap. Ball came right to me,” Bunge said. “Tried to bring it up the sidelines, fell out of bounds a little bit. But it was good for our team. Put us in good position (to go in and score).”

The production Hunter and Muoghalu provided in the running game took pressure off of Rutter, who threw only 14 passes, completing eight for 193 yards — highlighted by a 51-yard TD strike to Isaiah Robertson late in the third.

Metea Valley (5-4, 4-3), which must wait until Saturday night to figure out its postseason fate, got 123 yards and a TD on 33 carries from workhorse running back Bryson Oliver.

Oliver, who entered with 1,468 yards and 16 TDs, managed just 55 yards on 14 carries in the first half and gave credit to the Wildcats’ defense.

“They were blitzing hard, blitzing a lot. The line had to make an adjustment, but it wasn’t the best we could do as an adjustment,” he said. “But they were blitzing hard. They had my number.”

Senior quarterback Kyle Mooney, who threw for 152 yards on 9-of-23 passing, added a 25-yard TD pass to Nick Dodson early in the fourth for the Mustangs.

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