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For us sports writer types in the Tri-Cities there's not much better on the prep sports calendar than the Batavia-Geneva and St. Charles East-St. Charles North games. That's true for any sport but especially football (and I've got a soft spot for the boys and girls basketball matchups as well).
Unfortunately the past few years the Upstate Eight Conference has scheduled these two rivalry football games for the same night. Which for me turns it from one of the best nights of the year into a struggle trying to decide which game to see.
The last few years I've gone with Batavia-Geneva for numerous reasons, the main one probably that those two programs have been the measuring stick as far as conference superiority goes. I guess I feel until one of the St. Charles schools knocks Batavia and Geneva from the top spot that they deserve prime billing.
That's not the only reason, however.
As the developments emerged in both games Friday — Batavia quickly taking control of what became a one-sided 29-point win and St. Charles East rallying late to beat St. Charles North in overtime — I was kicking myself for not being at Norris Stadium. Without a rooting interest in either outcome, we just want to see the best finish, the most drama, the most competitive matchup. And I suppose if I knew ahead of time the two finals scores would be 49-20 and 28-21, I would have been at Norris Stadium.
But then as I got back to the office and worked on putting the Saturday paper together, I saw how our photographer Brian Hill captured St. Charles East's Brannon Barry's game-winning touchdown. They say a picture tells a 1,000 words and that was never more true as Barry left a pair of St. Charles North defenders behind and made his way to the end zone.
Looking closer at that photo, though, it told even more than 1,000 words. Just as striking to me were the stands behind Barry. Biggest play of the night against the Saints' biggest rival, and the stands were half full.
Half full? Where did everyone go?
I realize those stands weren't empty the entire game, I realize if the band leaves it makes the stands look even more empty, I know there are a lot of factors. Our ace St. Charles reporter Craig Brueske tells me the crowd at last night's game was as loud as he has heard in years.
It's just that I had returned from a game that was basically over by midway through the third quarter and you couldn't find an empty seat on either side. And here was the game for St. Charles bragging rights going to overtime and so many people didn't want to see the end?
This column isn't directed at anyone who was still at the East/North game watching the thrilling ending. And I certainly know there's awesome crowds for so many different St. Charles sporting events — I'm thinking nobody supports their volleyball team or any program like the Saints fans do for Jennie Kull's.
I guess it's more of figurative pat on the back to Batavia and Geneva fans who once again just continue to make that game so special. Maybe even more the Vikings supporters this time — it's certainly easy to stay and be in a good mood while your team is rolling to a 49-20 win — but the vast majority of Geneva fans also hung around on the losing end.
I'm thinking if the stories were reversed last night and Daniel Santacaterina was strolling in for the winning touchdown in overtime like Barry did last night, there's no way you would see anything in the photo afterward except for a full house of Vikings fans going crazy.
And being part of that atmosphere is going to always make the Batavia-Geneva game tough to top.
Thinking ahead: As far as next year's dilemma with these two games, I'm hoping this will be the last year I have to choose. With the changes coming to the Upstate Eight, is it possible someone could work with the schedule makers to play these two games on different nights?
A big no-no: Batavia senior Forrest Gilbertson made one of the key plays in the Bulldogs' win Friday, an interception in the closing seconds of the first half in the Bulldogs' end zone that kept Batavia's lead at 21-7 instead of 21-14 going to halftime.
Gilbertson almost made an equally big mistake when he lateraled the ball at his own 3-yard line to Anthony Thielk. The Vikings tackled Thielk at the 1-yard line, as Batavia nearly avoided both a safety or a fumble on the lateral that could have given Geneva a gift touchdown.
Gilbertson quickly owned up to the risky play afterward even before defensive coordinator Matt Holm came by.
"That was a bad play by me," Gilbertson said. "It won't happen again. We'll pay for it."
Gilbertson, who made another big play in the second half with a hard hit to force a fumble, was quick to mention that Batavia's senior class finished 6-0 against Geneva including two wins in eighth grade.
The right spot: Junior kicker Howie Morgano — 7 for 7 on extra-points Friday — has developed a knack for popping his kickoffs up high and toward the sideline to give Batavia's coverage team time to try to race down and recover the kick if the other team doesn't make a quick catch.
For the second straight week Ethan Compton did just that with a recovery that started the second half Friday and helped Batavia quickly blow the game open.
"We tell them guys it's a 40-yard dash," Piron said.
"That hurt, no doubt," Geneva coach Rob Wicinski said. "We saw it on tape, we had our guys there to catch it. We just froze."
Piron said Morgano deserves a lot of the credit for his ability to kick the ball high and in just the right spot.
"He's a nice young man, a hardworking young man," Piron said. "I'm very happy for him. Howie put that ball in different spots and put it where we asked him to and it worked out well for us. It's scary because of the height he kicks it like a punt. He chips it off there and gets that spin, you think it's going out of bounds but it doesn't."
Stepping up: Batavia's group of offensive linemen that includes Connor McKeehan, Mitchell Krusz, Patrick Gamble, Jack Breshears and Max Heidgen continued their improved play in Friday's win.
"Our line did great," Piron said. "On film when I watched that 4-2 they (Geneva) run those backers were smashing the kid from Wheaton North. Our coach (PJ) White really did a nice job this week of dealing with the execution of their twists, their stunts, their blitzes. Our kids' scout group in practice ran it real well, they were getting to our quarterback, about Wednesday we started to see it and then Thursday they picked it all up.
"As the season moves on some guys will emerge but right now they are all doing a nice job so we are playing them all."
Looking ahead: Wicinski is hoping his team can learn from the loss that leaves them 1-2 but with plenty of time to get back in playoff contention.
"We're just not quite ready. It's a process. If we can squeeze ourselves into some kind of a playoff situation I think we'd be a tough out. There's some good football players here, we're just not quite mature now."
Follow John Lemon on Twitter @jlemonDH