O’Fallon caught Neuqua Valley by surprise by recovering an onside kick to open Friday night’s Class 8A first-round game in Naperville
The Panthers couldn’t catch Mikey Dudek though, nor were they able to contain Nolan Dean and TJ Scruggs for that matter, as the Wildcats whipped their downstate visitors, 38-7.
Dudek caught three touchdown passes in the first half, Dean ran in a couple of scores and Scruggs had a picturesque 17-yard TD run as the rainy conditions and muddy field were no problem for the Wildcats.
“Our offense has some nice players and it makes it easy to call a game,” Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “Our offense is good because we’re able to stay somewhat balanced.
“Everyone looks at Dudek, but our running attack moves the chains and we felt very good about that.”
Neuqua Valley (9-1) forced the Panthers to go three-and-out after they had recovered the onside kick, then the Wildcats scored on their opening three possessions.
The first score came on a perfectly thrown 10-yard strike to the left corner of the end zone that Dudek was able to run underneath with 7:33 left in the first quarter. The second was a 27-yard connection down the middle as Rutter (10-of-15, 205 yards) lobbed it over a defender and Dudek caught up with it with 1:30 left in the quarter.
Dean made it 19-0 with a three-yard run with 9:46 left before halftime. Dean had also helped set up the Wildcats’ second touchdown when his sack forced a fumble that Godfrey Collins recovered.
O’Fallon (5-5) finally got on the board midway through the quarter, but Eli Tappin picked off a Camden Bauer pass just before the half.
Dudek (eight catches, 185 yards) then made a sensational, one-handed grab for a 32-yard gain and scored on a nine-yard slant with 17.7 seconds left to take a 25-7 lead into the break.
“That was huge,” Rutter said. “We’ve done that before and we’ve had a lot of drives at the end of halves, and games even, and we work on it a lot. We needed a score and got one.”
The Panthers only converted a single first down on their first two possessions while the Wildcats answered with touchdown runs from Scruggs (10 carries, 100 yards) and Dean (20 carries, 83 yards) to break the game open late in the third quarter.
As much attention as the Wildcats get because of their offense, the defense was equally as impressive, holding the Panthers to 225 yards and getting big plays from the entire team, including Derrek Warkenthein (12 tackles), Collins (9 tackles), Devon Griffin, Evan Cherney and Andrew Fraczek.
“Our defense has played great quarters and a great half but hadn’t played a full game until (Friday),” Ellinghaus said. “Just a group effort flying around and getting to the ball. All guys, all night long, did a really great job.”