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Calm, poised Mark Gronowski leads Neuqua Valley to victory in the War of 204

Mark Gronowski, a South Dakota State recruit, ran for a touchdown and threw for two to lead the No. 7 Wildcats to a 35-14 road win against district rival Waubonsie Valley.

Neuqua Valley’s Mark Gronowski (7) throws a pass.
Neuqua Valley’s Mark Gronowski (7) throws a pass.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The War of 204 did not disappoint. Two large student sections raged and the teams racked up hundreds of yards in personal fouls and unsportsmanlike penalties.

But in the midst of all the noise and chaos, Neuqua Valley quarterback Mark Gronowski was calm and composed. His poise in the pocket is remarkable for a high school senior.

“Last year I wasn’t as patient as I could have been,” Gronowski said. “This summer I was really working on it. I just had to relax back there. That’s they key, just relax in the pocket and then you’ll feel better.”

Gronowski, a South Dakota State recruit, ran for a touchdown and threw for two to lead the No. 7 Wildcats to a 35-14 road win against district rival Waubonsie Valley on Saturday in Aurora.

“I think [Gronowski] is the best in the state,” Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “We added the run element for him this year and he’s just excelled ten fold.”

Gronowski was 10-for-17 passing for 142 yards and two touchdowns. He had 11 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown.

“That was one of the chippiest games I’ve ever been a part of,” Gronowski said. “We had 200 yards of penalties. It was unbelievable. That’s just how it is sometimes, we just had to battle through it.”

The Wildcats have two other major weapons on offense. Receiver Sean Larkin, a Southern Illinois recruit had five catches for 55 yards. He caught touchdown passes of two and 17 yards.

Junior running back Armani Moreno is a bull. He finished with 17 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s a load, a big back,” Ellinghaus said. “He’s a one-cut guy and if you don’t get him around the ankles it is going to be tough for you. He brings a lot.”

Neuqua Valley (4-1, 2-0 DuPage Valley) wasn’t ranked in the preseason but opened eyes with a 50-48 loss to loaded East St. Louis in Week 3.

“That team was very good,” Gronowski said. “That game gave us confidence. Ever since then we’ve been playing with a great rhythm on offense.”

Waubonsie Valley quarterback Ethan Nelson was 17-for-28 passing for 207 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Warriors weren’t able to get the ground game going at any point, finishing with just 31 rushing yards.

Sophomore Antonio Torres is a player to keep an eye on at Waubonsie Valley (3-2, 0-2). He caught a screen pass and went 52 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and scored on a 21-yard run in the third quarter.

The rivalry atmosphere made it hard for either team to find much of an offensive flow in the second half.

“These kids generally like each other,” Ellinghaus said. “There are only a couple of kids that are probably still angry about it. These kids are competitive. They let their emotions get the best of them at times.”