This was the opportunity Neuqua Valley’s Cameron Raupach wanted.
With his partner-in-crime in the backfield – junior Will Chevalier – out, the senior running back was anticipating heavy work.
“That was the plan,” Raupach said. “I was really ready to do that because Will was probably going to come back next week. I was really excited to carry the load and I haven’t really been hurt all year.”
The Wildcats’ postseason hopes on the line Friday against Glenbard North, fate intervened early.
Less than four minutes into the game, Raupach found himself in the end zone.
But injury limited him to just two more carries after that while Glenbard North pounced because of an opportunistic defense.
Neuqua Valley turned the ball over five times in watching Glenbard North pick up a 24-14 DuPage Valley Conference victory.
A third straight loss has Neuqua Valley (5-4, 4-4) suspecting to sweat out the playoff pairings on Saturday – 32 playoff points perhaps the culprit.
“We’re a family and (the players) are a big part of our family,” Wildcats coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “We’ll never back down from a win or a loss. That doesn’t make up who you are and I think I want our kids to know that just because we didn’t finish the season the way we wanted to, that doesn’t make who you are as a person.
“We have some great, great kids here, great nucleus of players. A real family unity about these kids and that’s what I want to take away more than anything.”
Raupach ended with just five yards on his seven carries.
“On the touchdown, when I jumped up – I got a helmet to the knee,” he said. “Kind of re-aggravated what I sat out with over the summer. Something popped. I tried to keep playing, but I just didn’t have the same burst. So they told me I couldn’t go in the second half.”
Meanwhile, quarterback Jake Eskoff knew the scenario and was anxious to pick up the slack.
Panthers’ sophomore defensive back Kobie Jamison, however proved to be the perfect foil for the accurate Eskoff by picking him off twice.
Eskoff ended the night 16-of-29 passing for 170 yards and two interceptions.
“The defense definitely changed (to a) different look,” he said. “They blitzed more often than they usually do. Doing different coverages, rolling when we motion and all that stuff. They just had our number. You have to give it to them. We couldn’t figure the defense all game long.”
A 23-yard touchdown run from Eskoff with 7:06 left in the first half allowed the Wildcats to go into the half up 14-7.
Jayleen Fitzpatrick’s two touchdown runs in the second half for the Panthers (5-4, 4-4) allowed them to grind the game out.
Fitzpatrick and sophomore Angelo Cusumano combined for 38 carries and 215 yards as Glenbard North churned out 270 rushing yards.