Battle, Downers Grove North aiming for one last big game on biggest stage
Noah Battle saved one of his best performances for the final home game of his three-year varsity career.
The Downers Grove North senior running back/safety and special teams returner is a three-impact player on the field.
He showcased his diverse and big-time ability in last Saturday's 42-0 rout over Normal Community in the Class 7A state semifinal. He had several big hits on defense, a 5-yard touchdown run to go with a highlight-reel 87-yard kickoff return for another touchdown.
Now, Battle is aiming for another big game on the biggest stage of his career. The Trojans have a huge task at 4 p.m. on Saturday, facing state powerhouse Mount Carmel in the 7A state championship game at Hancock Stadium on the campus of Illinois State University.
"I'm excited to go out there and lead our team to a win," Battle said of Saturday's title game. "A lot of people are writing us off as a team, but we can believe we can win it."
The Trojans (11-2) will have to play error-free football and win the time of possession battle to knock off the Caravan (12-1), whose only loss came to Loyola in Week 9 and is coming off a 64-26 blitz of Batavia last Saturday. Battle is a player to watch in the title game against the 13-time state champions. His ability to make plays in all three phases is a big factor for the Trojans, especially with sophomore quarterback Owen Lansu, an emerging big-time recruit, set to encounter an aggressive and athletic Caravan defense.
Downers Grove North coach Joe Horeni, a member of the 2001 Downers Grove South Class 8A state championship team, called Battle a player capable of affecting a game in a multitude of ways.
"Noah is the key to our offense," Horeni said. "While our passing game has been making huge strides, the balance of Noah and the run game, along with Lansu and the receivers make us go. He gets the tough yards when needed and has the ability to make the long run.
"Defensively, Noah is bringing more physically to the safety position. He's a linebacker playing safety with that mentality, which helps an already strong defense. On special teams, Noah can break a return at any time and teams all know that."
Battle enters the state title game with 192 carries for 1,058 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in 11 games. He sat out the York and Lyons games, the Trojans' only two losses, with a sprained ankle. Battle said it was a tough injury, mainly due to his strong start. He ran for 131 yards and three touchdowns in a rout over rival Downers Grove South in the second week of the season. In a 31-7 road win against Glenbard West, Battle rushed for 198 yards and three TDs to snap a 16-game series losing streak.
"(The injury) was kind of challenging at first, but I knew our goal was to make it far in the playoffs," Battle said. "The regular season wasn't too much of a worry. I just tried to get healthy, so I could get back on the field. I started feeling 100% right as the playoffs started. Right now, I feel great, and my body is feeling great. The injury kind of helped me, allowing my body to rest and take some time to heal to be ready for the playoffs."
Lansu, a first-year starter, called Battle a key cog in the offense.
"When Noah gets his big chunk plays or breaks them all the way, it takes pressure off of everyone else and gives everyone confidence," Lansu said. "His ability to break one at any moment helps us out in the pass game because teams always give us heavier boxes when he's in the game because they have to respect that he can take it to the house any play."
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Battle, who has caught 12 passes for 163 yards and four touchdowns, is enjoying playing defense this season for the first time as a varsity starter. His toughness and physicality adds another element to the Trojans defense.
"I played nickelback last year, but we had two really good safeties ahead of me," Battle said. "I like defense just as much as running back. I've played defense my whole life, so it feels good to be out there. I love hitting on defense. It's maybe my favorite thing to do in sports."
Battle, who has an offer from Lindenwood and also several Division II and III offers, is aiming to make a splash against Mount Carmel, which has held six teams to 10 points or fewer this season.
"I feed off big games and the bright spotlight," Battle said. "I'm looking forward to going out there and competing and having fun against the best."