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Neuqua Valley back Joey Rattigan is chased by Bolingbrook's Emile Wisdom (13) and Parker Westphal (21). | John Patsch~For Sun-Times Media
With the way Neuqua Valley senior running back Joey Rhattigan was dragging defenders up and down the field at Bolingbrook in the Wildcats’ second-round Class 8A playoff game Friday, one name kept coming up on the sideline.
Joliet Catholic legend Mike Alstott was the player that was brought up.
After Rhattigan’s performance in arguably the biggest win in school history, 44-33 over the defending Class 8A state champions, Rhattigan could be described as Alstott 2.0.
Rhattigan ran for 341 yards on 26 carries, including touchdown runs of 84, 53, 22, seven and five yards, as the Wildcats rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to set a school record for wins (11-0) and reach the state quarterfinals for the first time ever.
“He was feeling it tonight,” Neuqua coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “He’s an absolute tank. They called him the bus growing up. I call him the train now, because he’s tough to stop.”
Bolingbrook (8-3) took a 33-28 lead with 8:03 left on a 20-yard touchdown run from Illinois-bound quarterback Aaron Bailey, who was returning after missing a month due to a sprained knee. He ran for three scores and threw for another in the loss, rushing for 211 yards in the process.
But Rhattigan rallied Neuqua late in the fourth quarter. He capped a nine-play, 64-yard drive with a bruising five-yard touchdown run in which he dragged six Raiders defenders into the end zone. Three plays later, Dennis Thurow intercepted Bailey to give the Wildcats the ball back. The next play, Rhattigan appeared to be bottled up near the line of scrimmage, but he wiggled out of it and scampered 53 yards for a touchdown to seal the win.
“If you get close to the end zone, I’m going to give it all I’ve got to get in there and I know my teammates were helping me push through that pile,” Rhattigan said. “I actually grew up watching (Alstott). He was one of my idols. To be compared to him is pretty overwhelming to me. It seems like a blink of an eye since I was a freshman and I could have never dreamed of this.”
Both Ellinghaus, in his first season as head coach, and Rhattigan said this was the biggest win in school history. Now the Wildcats have to push forward against the winner of Saturday’s Waubonsie Valley/Oak Park-River Forest winner next week, and Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow had a message for Ellinghaus after the game.
“He said he really felt like we had the team that could take it the distance,” Ellinghaus said. “He told me how proud of me he was. John and I go way back. It was nice. I believe that these kids aren’t satisfied.”