There was both celebration and a sense of revenge for Neuqua Valley on Friday night as the Wildcats easily defeated Lake Park 53-23 in an Upstate Eight Valley conference game.
With the victory, the Wildcats claimed at least a share of the conference title and can win it outright with a win over Bartlett next week. Neuqua also erased the memory of a 33-30 overtime upset loss to the Lancers last season that hurt their playoff seeding.
“We talked about this game a lot. This game I thought could have been a trap game. We just came off a big win (versus Waubonsie) and now we play a good team in Lake Park that beat us last year,” Wildcats coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “It is very exciting to bring a conference championship to Neuqua, but these kids have their eyes on bigger things. They want to make a deep playoff run.
Joey Rhattigan continued his solid senior season by scoring four touchdowns, two rushing and two receiving. He rushed for 108 yards on just 13 carries and caught two passes for 71 yards.
“It is a little overwhelming to hear that we are conference champs. These guys really deserve it, though, because they have worked their butts off,” Rhattigan said. “We still have plenty to play for right now. Just because we made the playoffs already doesn’t mean we stop playing. We have to continue to get better.”
Rhattigan sat out the second half due to the efficiency of the offense.
The Wildcats (8-0, 6-0 UEC Valley) scored on their first four possessions and racked up a season-best 40 points in the second quarter.
Rhattigan scored his first touchdown on a six-yard run. That capped off a nine-play, 94-yard drive that featured a 46-yard ramble by Rhattigan up the far sideline to put the Wildcats deep in Lancer territory.
Five minutes later, the Wildcats took advantage of a Lancer miscue as a defender jumped offside on a fourth-and-three around midfield. Eventually. T.J. Scruggs bounced in for a four-yard touchdown run.
Rhattigan scored two more touchdowns and quarterback Dylan Andrew found Mikey Dudek for a 70-yard score. On the ensuing Lancer possession, Sam Norgaard intercepted a pass and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown.
Lake Park finally got on the board with some trickery as Kevin Teglia took a pitch and then rolled out and threw a halfback pass to Jimmy Strauss for a 12-yard score. Teglia wound up scoring two more receiving touchdowns in the game, giving him 15 on the season.
“Our kids never stopped fighting during the game and we took some chances out there tonight,” Lancers coach Chris Roll said. “We knew we needed to win both of our remaining games to make it to the playoffs and we had to beat a very good team to do it. We put too much pressure on ourselves.”
Neuqua outgained Lake Park (3-5, 2-4 UEC Valley) 388-263 in the game and ended Lake Park’s bid for the playoffs by handing them their fifth loss.