Football: Joe Zitella, Naperville North stun No. 6 Neuqua Valley

Joe Zitella was as surprised as everyone else in attendance at Naperville North.

“I thought they’d play for overtime,” the Huskies’ junior defensive back said. “They decided to go for it all.”

No. 6 Neuqua Valley did indeed roll the dice on a 2-point conversion for the win with 38 seconds left.

But Colin Herbstritt pressured Neuqua quarterback Broc Rutter and Zitella tipped a pass in the end zone to preserve the host Huskies thrilling 14-13 win.

It is Naperville North’s first win in the crosstown series since 2010. And it was one to remember.

“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Zitella said. “Our defensive line did a great job all game. They were dominant.”

Neuqua trailed 14-0 after three quarters, but pulled closer on Charlie Hunter’s 1-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-goal a couple plays into the fourth.

The Wildcats forced a Huskies fumble with under three minutes left and Rutter cashed in with a six-yard scoring throw to Brett Borske.

A long delay ensued, and the Indiana State-bound Rutter convinced his coaches to go for the win.

“First game, on the road, I’d make that decision 10 more times,” Rutter said. “I just have to make a better play.”

The final play was a fitting end to a gallant Huskies defensive effort.

Playing a Neuqua team that averaged 40 points a game last year en route to the Class 8A semifinals, a team that beat Naperville North 34-27 a year ago, the Huskies stood tall.

They forced four turnovers — Zitella also had an interception — and held Neuqua to just two first downs in the first half.

“Neuqua is a great football team,” Huskies coach Sean Drendel said. “We decided to play some rock ’em, sock ’em football and get after it.”

The ball-hawking of the Huskies paid dividends early.

When Neuqua muffed a punt after Naperville North’s first drive of the game stalled, Huskies senior D’Angelo Hyshaw pounced on the loose change.

It set his team up at the Neuqua 23, and two plays later Chris Gajcak found Matt Herring in the back of the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown.

Gajcak also ran for 140 yards on 15 carries. His 68-yard keeper after the Huskies’ defense turned away a Neuqua goal-to-go situation to set up Mikey Caldarazzo’s touchdown run with 1:54 left in the third quarter.

Rutter, who threw for 30 touchdowns last year, completed 11-of-21 passes for 127 yards. Hunter ran for 87 for the Wildcats, who get defending Class 8A champion Naperville Central next week.

“We were just all out of whack for a half and that’s all on me,” Rutter said. “I’m a senior leader and I have to calm the guys down in the huddle.”

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