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By Dave Oberhelman
No. 2 Batavia (11-1) at No. 1 Rockford Boylan (12-0)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: Batavia 19, No. 6 Lake Forest 14; Rockford Boylan 21, No. 13 Prairie Ridge 17.
Outlook: Rockford Boylan's postseason legacy dates as far back as a second-place finish in the state series' second year, 1975, and as recently as consecutive championships in 2010 and 2011. Batavia coach Dennis Piron equates the Titans to "a Mt. Carmel in northern Illinois." With John Cacciatore succeeding Dan Appino as Boylan coach in 2012 -- when the Titans advanced to the 7A quarterfinals -- this season the program enjoyed its ninth straight playoff appearance and 29th overall, now with a record of 52-26. Batavia is 15-16 in 17 appearances, the high-water marks being the 2006 Class 6A runner-up finish and the 2011 semifinal berth.
Rockford Boylan, alma mater of Batavia offensive coordinator and Hall of Fame former head coach Mike Gaspari (Class of '73) -- Piron joked folks were trying to pry data out of Gaspari's sister, Marilyn Ludwig, secretary to Boylan principal Jerry Kerrigan -- averages better than 35 points a game (one win was by forfeit over Rockford Jefferson) but also allows nearly 21 points a game. Batavia hasn't allowed more than 20 points since its Week 3 win over Geneva; the Titans, headed by defensive tackle Ian Riggs, all-state linebacker Zack Mathews and defensive back twins Grahm and Quinn Smolinski, have allowed at least 27 three times since then. The Bulldogs average better than 43 points while giving up an average of 15, and entered the playoffs boasting Class 6A's best margin of victory, nearly 29 points.
Looking at Boylan, Piron said: "They're a team that's undefeated for a reason."
A big reason is quarterback Demry Croft. Out of a spread offense, the 6-foot-6 senior has completed 138 of 219 pass attempts, according to the Rockford Register Star, for 1,781 yards, 16 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. Croft's top target is 6-4 former quarterback Brock Stull, with 51 catches for 861 yards and 7 touchdowns. Both players, the RR Star notes, are within reach of program records for passing and receiving yardage. Running back Ryan Stanicek is almost solely a receiving threat with 41 catches for 424 yards, 5 touchdowns.
Through the air, Croft has carried the Titans offense this postseason. He's also swift afoot with 630 yards and 11 touchdowns on only 87 carries. Boylan's top rusher is 5-7 Nicholas Pumilia with 683 yards rushing, but in short-yardage situations the Titans will run a tight, power set featuring 230-pound Matthews, who has scored 8 touchdowns on 30 carries, for 189 yards.
"We would like to stay balanced," said Boylan athletic director Paul Heitkamp, speaking on Cacciatore's behalf. "I think we've thrown more than we've liked lately."
If a goal is to run the football and throw when you want, Batavia has achieved it. Tailback Anthony Scaccia hit Lake Forest for another 136 yards rushing with a touchdown run (and added a TD catch) to bulk up his program-record totals to 1,541 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground. Quarterback Micah Coffey, targeting 13 receivers over the course of the season, completes a smart 63 percent of his passes for 2,043 yards, 25 touchdowns, to just 9 interceptions -- though 2 came last week against Lake Forest, a very good defensive club.
"That was two teams that had the same strong wills going against each other," Piron said of the quarterfinal game.
"In the end our defense saved the day for us. They've played better every week. Our defense is playing at a championship caliber right now."
One more win remains before that statement becomes 100 percent accurate. It's hard to believe Bulldogs like middle linebacker Austin Thielk (team-high 88 tackles) and safety Michael Moffatt (4 interceptions, 15 pass breakups; team-high 40 catches and 563 yards at receiver), who both started on Batavia's 2011 semifinalist, would settle for less.
Against Croft and the Boylan spread offense, junior defensive ends Josh Leonhard (11 sacks) and Noah Frazier (10 sacks) look to add to their program-record sack totals, which Frazier tied against Lake Forest.
"Last week was the type of game that our kids were waiting for," Piron said. "Now it's another game just like that one."
Next week: The winner advances to the Class 6A state championship game against the winner between Richards (11-1) and East St. Louis (9-3).