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Four Downs: News, notes and observations from Week 5

Raving about Neuqua Valley’s Mark Gronowski, Phillips is up to 7A, Hersey breaks a record and Joliet Catholic’s new star.

Neuqua Valley’s Mark Gronowski (7) carries the ball against Waubonsie Valley.
Neuqua Valley’s Mark Gronowski (7) carries the ball against Waubonsie Valley.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Conditions were far from ideal Saturday in Aurora. Waubonsie Valley plays on a grass field, and the wet weekend made for sloppy footing. Players were wiping out regularly, and the ‘‘War of 204’’ rivalry game between the Warriors and Neuqua Valley was as hotly contested and emotional as any ‘‘Battle of Vincennes’’ on the South Side.

In the midst of all that, Wildcats quarterback Mark Gronowski stood out in Neuqua Valley’s 35-14 victory. The South Dakota State recruit is 6-3 and strong.

‘‘I think [Gronowski] is the best in the state,’’ Wildcats coach Bill Ellinghaus said. ‘‘We added the run element for him this year, and he’s just excelled tenfold.’’

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

Neuqua Valley is a legitimate threat to win the Class 8A state championship. Junior running back Armani Moreno is a bull, and Southern Illinois recruit Sean Larkin is an excellent receiver.

Waubonsie Valley quarterback Ethan Nelson was no slouch, either, finishing 17-for-28 for 207 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The Wildcats’ defense wouldn’t let the Warriors get anything going on the ground. That’s another positive for Neuqua Valley’s state-title hopes.

Phillips up to Class 7A

Phillips coach Troy McAllister has said for years that he wanted to play in Class 7A, but the Illinois High School Association previously wouldn’t allow that big of a class jump.

Phillips has fewer than 600 students and naturally would play in Class 4A. The Wildcats won the Class 4A title in 2015 and the Class 5A title in 2017. Last season, they played in Class 6A and lost in the quarterfinals.

Earlier this week, the IHSA announced Phillips would be allowed to play in Class 7A. The Wildcats are the only team in the state that petitioned to play up a class.

It’s a loaded field in Class 7A this season. Nazareth, Mount Carmel, Glenbard West, Batavia and Brother Rice will be competing against Phillips for the state title.

The Wildcats will face Simeon, which has gone back and forth between Class 7A and Class 8A recently, in the ‘‘Public League Super Bowl’’ on Saturday at Gately.

Hersey piles up the points

It’s possible some readers thought the score was a misprint, but it wasn’t. Hersey beat Wheeling 78-20 in Week 5. That’s a school record for the Huskies, who had 369 rushing yards and 226 passing yards.

The previous school record was 63 points, but this group has been pushing toward a new record for a while. Hersey scored 63 points against Maine East in Week 3 and posted a 62-point game last season.

The Huskies, who are undefeated this season, scored nine touchdowns and a safety in the first half against Wheeling. Quarterback Jordan Hansen led the way with four rushing touchdowns.

Hersey will host Prospect on Friday.

The Hilltoppers’ new star

Joliet Catholic senior Kenyetta Williams is a well-known name in the area despite missing his junior year because of an injury. But another star running back has emerged this season for the Hilltoppers: Jordan Anderson.

Anderson, a 6-2 sophomore, rushed for 265 yards and three touchdowns against St. Laurence in Week 3. He posted 141 yards and three touchdowns in a victory against Fenwick in Week 4 and scored twice in a loss to Brother Rice in Week 5.

Joliet Catholic, the defending Class 5A champion, is only 2-3 this season but is now through the toughest part of its schedule and finishes the regular season with four very winnable games.