With the memory of his team’s Week 1 meeting with Neuqua Valley in the back of his mind, Naperville North coach Sean Drendel admitted as much early in the week that change was coming.
Speeding up its offense’s tempo, Naperville North was able to get off to a good start against Neuqua Valley for the second time this season, evidenced by putting up a 13-point first quarter.
But as the game wore on, the visiting Huskies’ defense couldn’t do much about the aerial assault that Wildcats’ senior QB Dylan Andrew was about to put on.
Throwing for a season-high 268 yards, Andrew’s three touchdowns passes helped highlight top-seeded Neuqua Valley’s 56-20 rout of 16th-seeded Naperville North on Friday night to open up its Class 8A postseason run with a bang.
Andrew was 10-of-13 passing for 268 yards and the three TDs for the Wildcats, two of which went to junior Mike Dudek, while senior running back Joey Rhattigan ran 33 times for 228 yards and four TDs.
“We’re very balanced. But I’ve said it a million times, our run game complements our pass game and our pass game complements our run game and it makes tough for a defense to stop both of them,” Andrew said. “So we just got guys stepping up, making plays and we’re a pretty efficient offense when we do that.”
Already the program’s career rushing TD leader coming into the game with 45, with two first-half touchdown runs, Rhattigan became the program’s single-season rushing TD leader, a record that now stands at 26.
In addition, Rhattigan’s 228-yard night put his season total at 1,493 yards — breaking Anton Wilkins’ single-season rushing mark of 1,485 that was set in 2007.
“You know, I think I said the same thing the other week (after beating Bartlett in Week 9) — I didn’t know that,” he said. “And when I hear that I’m breaking records, it’s just (gravy). I think about it benefiting the team and scoring points (is) definitely doing that.”
Finishing at .500 for the third time in the last four years, Naperville North (5-5) could do little but watch as Neuqua Valley took the second-half kickoff down the field 70 yards on seven plays for a score en route to putting together 35 unanswered points in the second half.
“Yeah, giving up a score there hurt. I mean, we felt like we were in the game and, you know, we didn’t play a great second half,” said Drendel, whose team was led by senior QB Johnny Brown’s 92 rushing yards and two TDs. “Our defense actually got a few stops. We couldn’t get enough going offensively.”
The Wildcats’ defense had much to do with that as Rodney Jones’ unit came up with three second-half turnovers, including a fumble recovery and interception from senior strong safety Spencer Donahue.
“Defensively, we did make some adjustments to stop their power run game. I mean, that was their big thing,” Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “So defensively, we moved a couple guys around. We didn’t change personnel, but we just moved some guys around to stop what they were doing offensively.”
Earning a 10th consecutive victory, Neuqua Valley (10-0) established a program record for victories, with a rematch with ninth-seeded and defending Class 8A state champion Bolingbrook on the docket for next week in Bolingbrook.
Bolingbrook eliminated Neuqua Valley from the postseason a year ago with a 33-14 victory in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs.