Neuqua Valley scaled new heights in 2012 season
BY BLAKE BAUMGARTNER For Sun-Times Media November 20, 2012 5:32PM
Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus guided the Wildcats to their first trip to the state semifinals in his first season as head coach. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Benet senior wide receiver Jack Euritt— Euritt caught six passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns in second-seeded Benet’s 37-13 Class 7A state semifinal loss to top-seeded Lincoln-Way East. Euritt finished the year with 55 receptions for 850 yards and 10 touchdowns for the 11-2 Redwings, who tied the program record for wins after going 1-8 in 2011.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Neuqua Valley senior linebacker Sam Norgaard— Norgaard recorded the top-seeded Wildcats’ only turnover in their 26-21 loss to third-seeded Mount Carmel in a Class 8A state semifinal. Several Wildcats stopped Caravan senior quarterback Don Butkus before stripping him of the ball with the game tied at 14-14 in the third quarter. Norgaard recovered the fumble, but Neuqua Valley couldn’t capitalize as they eventually punted.
Updated: December 22, 2012 6:17AM
Coming off a 5-5 campaign in 2011, which saw the program lose its final four games of the year, and with the only head coach the program had ever known in Bryan Wells having departed in March, questions abounded for Neuqua Valley football this season.
Inheriting a program that had never been past the second round in its eight postseason appearances, Bill Ellinghaus — Wells’ offensive coordinator for the last eight years — was named head coach a month later.
If the 2012 season is any indication, Ellinghaus is on his way to charting a new course for the Wildcats.
Opening the season by winning its first 12 games, including the program’s first-ever undefeated regular season, Neuqua Valley’s appearance last Saturday in a Class 8A state semifinal culminated a season that included a lot of firsts and seemingly had program history being rewritten every week.
“We knew in the summer that we were going to be a special team. We knew that we had an opportunity and we had the bunch to come out here and make history,” Neuqua Valley senior quarterback Dylan Andrew said. “Every week, we kept making more and more history and it was something that the school came behind us and we had a heck of a year. We came up a little short. It hurts now, but we had a great season.”
Finishing its 15th season of varsity football at 12-1 and one step away from making the program’s first state title game trip after last Saturday’s 26-21 loss to Mount Carmel, consider all that the program accomplished in 2012.
Starting the season with a 43-20 rout at Naperville North on Aug. 24, the Wildcats got their first-ever win at Naperville North before following that with a 41-28 home win over Naperville Central the next week to secure wins over both District 203 schools in the same season for the first time ever en route to securing the first-ever 2-0 start.
Averaged 41.6 points a game, the first two weeks were just a sign of things to come as the Wildcats’ offense, led by Andrew, senior running back Joey Rhattigan and junior wide receiver Mikey Dudek, eclipsed the 40-point mark nine times.
After running roughshod over opposing defenses to the tune of 2,226 yards and 33 touchdowns, Rhattigan leaves the program with virtually every one of the program’s rushing records, while Andrew was efficient all year long in throwing for 1,647 yards and 20 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
“So proud of the way our kids fought, man. I mean, nobody thought we’d be in this position, except for these kids and our coaches and our school community, probably,” Ellinghaus said. “But nobody else gave us a second thought of being where we’re at. So couldn’t be happier for our kids. Obviously, disappointment right now but not a disappointment with the way they battled all year.”
Saying goodbye to Andrew, Rhattigan and a pair of all-Upstate Eight Valley offensive linemen in J.P. Quinn and Kyle Bryant on offense, while losing defensive stalwarts like strong safeties Dennis Thurow and Spencer Donahue, linebacker Sam Norgaard and defensive end Tyler Speich, the legacy of the 2012 Wildcats leave is a standard unquestioned.
“Some of the friends I acquired from being on this team and just the friendships I have now — coming into the season, me and Dennis Thurow — we weren’t really friends. We didn’t really talk that much, but he’s one of my best friends now,” said Donahue, who finished second on the team to Thurow with 109 tackles. “Football has brought us together and I love every guy on my team. I couldn’t say enough about this team.”
With Rhattigan’s departure, T.J. Scruggs will return in 2013 as the team’s leading rusher with 433 yards and eight touchdowns, while Dudek’s 46 catches for 991 yards and 14 touchdowns — all program single-season records — will be back.
Sophomore Nolan Dean, who registered 89 tackles and four sacks as an outside linebacker, will be back to try and help lead a defense that loses five of its eight leading tacklers from 2012 — with Dean, junior nose guard Godfrey Collins and junior free safety Andrew Fraczek all back next season.
“I can take this: our kids practiced an extra four weeks this year. Our kids are gonna be hungrier next year even then they are now. We talk so much about staying hungry, staying humble and they’re just that,” Ellinghaus said. “We’re gonna be back. We’re gonna be back in this situation again and I believe in these kids. I believe in the underclassmen. I just feel bad right now with the seniors, having to go out like this.”