Downers Grove North upsets Batavia
When No. 8 Downers Grove North jumped to a 24-13 halftime lead at No. 1 Batavia Friday night in the opening round of the Class 7A playoffs, history was guaranteed to repeat itself.
The Bulldogs were hoping the history would follow 2011 when also as a No. 1 seed the Bulldogs fell behind 28-7 only to stun Notre Dame 35-28 on their way to the state semifinals.
Instead it was the Trojans who repeated history. They watched as the Bulldogs cut an 18-point deficit to 6 early in the fourth quarter before sophomore quarterback David Edwards quieted a big Batavia crowd by engineering a game-clinching 65-yard touchdown drive for a 38-26 win.
In their last playoff appearance, 2008, the Trojans also played giant-killer. They entered 7A as a 5-4 seventh-seed and knocked off No. 2 Wheaton Warrenville South 8-7 and reached the quarterfinals.
This time Downers North (6-4) handed Batavia (9-1) its only loss and earned a second-round trip to No. 5 Thornton.
"That's a 9-0 football team, that's why we are ecstatic," Trojans coach John Wander said. "We're 5-4, we limped into the playoffs with three losses."
The Trojans hit Batavia early. Stephen Kanis, who also intercepted 2 passes, blocked a punt and returned it to Batavia's 4, setting up a short Edwards touchdown run and 7-0 lead 1:16 into the game.
Batavia quarterback Micah Coffey tied the score at 7 with the first of his two touchdown passes to Zach Strittmatter.
Downers North quickly struck back with the play that killed Batavia all night, the dive off the Trojans' veer option. Brandon Salter went untouched on a 55-yard run to put the Trojans up 14-7, then minutes later on an identical play raced 84 yards for a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter.
"It's all that line firing off, getting their blocks, creating a big seam for me," Salter said. "All I saw was open field. The end would come down on our quarterback which would leave me a great seam."
Salter finished with a career-high 229 yards on 20 carries as the Trojans totaled 338 on the ground.
"That triple option is kind of hard to tell who has the ball." Batavia linebacker Cullin Rokos said. "Sometimes you just catch someone guessing I guess."
Rokos brought Batavia within 21-14 with a 41-yard touchdown on a fumble return. Michael Gates hit the Trojans back when he got the handoff, knocking the ball loose and right to Rokos.
"The ball just popped up and I happened to be in the right place at the right time," Rokos said. "It's been my dream since fifth grade to score a touchdown on this field and it's not how I wanted the game to end but I accomplished a dream tonight.
"We had a lot of expectations. We knew from last year the Niles Notre Dame game we could not take this team lightly. We came out and played our hearts out but they played a good game and they are a good team. I give a lot of respect to them."
Gareth Jones booted a 31-yard field goal to put the Trojans up 24-13 at halftime on a drive kept alive by a helmet-to-helmet penalty on a play Batavia had recovered a Trojans fumble. Officials huddled for several minutes before finalizing the call.
Downers Grove North only attempted 3 passes in the first half but came up with some timely completions in the second. The first was a 43-yard touchdown strike to Richard Olekanma who got behind the Batavia secondary for a 31-13 lead.
Anthony Scaccia (155 yards rushing on 13 carries) scored on a 2-yard run and Strittmatter a 21-yard reception to bring the Bulldogs within 31-26 with 9:09 remaining.
The Batavia defense had finally started to slow the Trojans' running game. Needing to get the ball back and give its offense a chance at completing the comeback, the Bulldogs watched Edwards find Olekanma for 6 yards on a 3rd-and-5, then hit Kyle Leto for 20 yards on a 2nd-and-12 and finally call his own number on a 14-yard touchdown run on 3rd-and-2 that restored the Trojans' two-score lead with just 3:58 left. Scaccia broke a 56-yard run to give Batavia one last chance but the Trojans held from their own 5, Liam McKenna knocking away Coffey's fourth-down pass into the end zone.
"Some kids came up big," Wander said. "We always talk, who is going to be the hero on Saturday morning. We had a couple heroes tonight."
Strittmatter, a three-year starter, caught 5 passes for 82 yards and 2 touchdowns in the final game of his stellar career — one he didn't think would come to an end like it did.
"I was planning to come watch film tomorrow and get ready for our next opponent next week," Strittmatter said. "It's just tough right now.
"We knew they are a very strong team from the conference they play in. They play a tough game every week. It's hard right now. All the emotion, we work 12 months a year for this and it's gone in 48 minutes."
Batavia coach Dennis Piron also wasn't ready for the season to end, one that saw the Bulldogs open by knocking off DVC-power Glenbard North in a 42-41 shootout, then play only one more playoff team in the final eight weeks.
"This isn't easy," Piron said. "I don't feel like the kids in any way, shape, or form didn't play good football. If anything we as coaches have to make better adjustments more quickly. We have to find ways to pick on something else they are doing and allow us to get those scores early or put our kids in better position against an option team like that so maybe they don't pop some of those runs. I have nothing but praise for our kids and I feel badly their season is over. This group of seniors have been successful, and I feel bad for our league we didn't represent them a little better tonight."
Batavia will return many of its key players including Coffey, Scaccia, Anthony Thielk and Michael Moffatt — not that it makes the loss any easier for Piron or his senior class. Those seniors won Upstate Eight River titles the past two years and didn't lose a regular-season game.
"I really feel bad for these seniors," Piron said. "That's (DGN) a very good football team over there but we're a good football team too. I think our kids will be extremely disappointed long term they didn't win this football game tonight because they had chances and had opportunities. But I don't want them to have any regrets about anything because I sure don't. It was a great season, they battled through a lot behind the scenes, a lot of stuff they have had to persevere, life-related stuff and they have done a great job."
"I wish we could continue," Strittmatter said. "It's been great playing on this field. Three great years and some great teammates. It's just ending too quick right now."
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