Neuqua Valley attempts first 2-0 start

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With its annual Week 2 meeting with Neuqua Valley awaiting Friday night, symmetry might be the word of the day for Naperville Central.

Finding itself in the same spot it was at this time last year at 0-1 after Week 1, Naperville Central can only hope the symmetry carries over.

Last year the Redhawks recovered from a home loss to Waubonsie Valley by eventually winning nine games and making a run to the Class 8A state semifinals.

Coming into Friday night’s meeting with the Wildcats with plenty of motivation after being handed a 34-14 road loss by the Warriors, focus is squarely on winning a game and avoiding an 0-2 hole.

“Every game we play is equally important and you gotta get one before you can get two,” Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said. “The race is to five (wins). You gotta get to five to play Week 10. We’re not looking to Week 3 or anything like that.

“We’re worried about Neuqua Valley this week. Our kids are smart enough to know the importance of it. There’s some bragging rights there. A lot of our kids know their kids and vice-versa.”

In his first varsity start last week at Waubonsie Valley, junior quarterback Jake Kolbe completed 11 of his 25 passes for 139 yards to go along with a touchdown and an interception.

Dictated heavily by a 21-0 deficit, the Redhawks’ running game was neutralized by the Warriors’ defense.

The quartet of Nick Thomas, Tyler Joyce, Nolan Davis and Kolbe combined for 72 yards on 18 carries, with Thomas coming through with 56 of those yards and a seven-yard TD run in the third quarter that got the Redhawks on the scoreboard.

Stine knows full well his team needs to make things easier for Kolbe.

“The thing we gotta do is allow Jake to manage the game and if we can get the game into the fourth quarter, give him a chance to try and win it for us,” he said. “But we can’t go into the game and say, “Jake, go win the game.’ We have to win it as a group of 11.”

The Wildcats, bolstered by their first victory at Naperville North last week, are looking to defeat both Naperville schools in the same season for the first time.

Earning a victory tonight over the Redhawks will give the Neuqua Valley program its first  2-0 start.

“Yeah, I mean, that would be big. I think what this team wants is to win it, of course,” Wildcats’ senior running back Joey Rhattigan. “And we set out, we want to make history. So that would be the start.”

After posting a season-opening victory over Naperville North to start 2011, Neuqua Valley came in search of that elusive first 2-0 start but left Memorial Stadium empty-handed.

Much like the Warriors did to them last week, the Redhawks jumped out to a 21-0 lead in front of their home crowd. Naperville Central used that quick start en route to coming away with a 28-14 victory over the Wildcats.

The Redhawks’ defense suffocated the Wildcats’ offense all night in limiting them to 201 total yards.

“I certainly think the kids want that. They want to be the first team to start 2-0,” Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “They want to redeem themselves after the Central loss last year. We got beat up last year against Central and a lot of these kids were a part of that. And I don’t think they want to see that happen again.

“I think our kids are using it to motivate themselves more than we are as coaches. We’re trying to take more of the technical approach and (our kids) are certainly running with the emotion of ‘Let’s be the first team to win two games out of the gate and then obviously beat both Naperville schools.’”

Last Sept. 2, Rhattigan was held to 83 yards on 20 carries, although he did find the end zone twice.

“I’m deeply motivated,” Rhattigan said of the game against Central. “I can’t explain the feeling of like how hard I need to work because really I just need to perform better each week. (Last Friday against Naperville North) was a good night.”

Rhattigan ran for 157 yards and a pair of scores in the Wildcats’ 43-20 rout of Naperville North a week ago.

“He just looks a year older. He looks a little bigger,” Naperville Central defensive coordinator Mike Ulreich said of Rhattigan. “He looks a little quicker, but we had a great time with him a year ago. But he still had some tough runs a year ago. He runs hard.

“If one thing sticks out from the last two years, he runs hard and when he gets his shoulders square — we’ve got some problems. So he likes to get vertical. He likes to run north and south. He runs a quick cut and he’s a good back.”

The dilemma that Naperville North faced last week is the same one Naperville Central faces tonight and one that the seven opponents remaining on Neuqua Valley’s schedule after tonight will have to deal with — pick your poison.

Put eight or nine men in the box to deal with Rhattigan and force Wildcats’ quarterback Dylan Andrew to beat you? Or play it straight up?

Given Andrew’s efficient and productive night against Naperville North, which saw him throw just two incompletions while throwing and running for one TD apiece, that may not be so simple.

“I think we did that on Friday. I think we’ll continue to do that,” Ellinghaus said of relying on Andrew more. “If we’re talking number of reps, I think we were able to drop back and throw the ball enough to keep the pressure off of Joey. When you’re 12-of-14, I feel like that’s (efficient). If you’re completing 12 balls and there’s a lot of teams (who) throw it 25 times and don’t complete 12 balls, so we did it all last year.

“If we can throw the ball 15-20 times and be 80 percent, I’ll take that any day.”

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