St. Charles North brought the hammer to a showdown of top 10 Class 7A teams Friday night in Batavia, while the Bulldogs proved to be tough as nails.
Senior Griffin Hammer caught 3 touchdown passes in the first quarter, giving the No. 4 North Stars the big plays they needed early on the way to a 42-35 victory over No. 6 Batavia.
It looked like it would be a rout much of the night, but Batavia had other ideas.
The North Stars led 35-14 late in the third quarter before the Bulldogs scored 21 straight capped by Michael Niemiec's 25-yard blocked punt return and a 2-point conversion pass from Riley Cooper to Glen Albanese Jr. with just 2:34 remaining, tying the game at 35.
Quarterback Zach Mettetal remained calm, driving the North Stars 92 yards from their own 8-yard line, starting with a 26-yard completion to Nathan Dehut, then two passes to Hammer, a pass interference call on a ball to Hammer, and finally Mettetal called his own number on a 29-yard scamper up the middle for the go-ahead score with 1:11 left.
"It was a read play but there was nothing for me or (running back) Eric (Lins)," Mettetal said. "I kind of took it and tried to make something happen.
"We learned a valuable lesson (from the St. Charles East loss). We have to respond to adversity against a good team and that's what we did. That will help us moving on to the playoffs."
Tyler Nubin sealed the win with an interception on Batavia's final drive.
"I'm super proud of the kids," North Stars coach Rob Pomazak said. "It's funny, we practiced that exact sequence Wednesday and Thursday. We do a sudden score when are trailing, we do a two-minute drill and then we come back and flip the defense when we have to win a game. The kids rose to the occasion."
Thanks to upstart St. Charles East, Friday's outcome determined the runner-up in the Upstate Eight Conference River and not the champion.
But it's still a win that sends St. Charles North (8-1, 5-1) into the playoffs with a better seed and a big confidence boost.
"I think you saw two really good football teams here today, two teams who can do an awful lot of damage in the playoffs," Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. "This game didn't have a ton of meaning after both teams weren't playing for first anymore, but it sure didn't seem like it. Two very proud football teams. It was a fun football game. Nice job to both teams."
The North Stars only needed four plays to score. Mettetal lofted a 37-yard strike that the 6-foot-4 Hammer reached high for near the right sideline, putting St. Charles North up 7-0 just 36 seconds into the game.
"The whole year I hadn't been throwing to him much and this game on film we saw we could exploit a weakness they had and he did a good job getting open," Mettetal said.
Batavia (7-2, 4-2) answered quickly on a 1-yard Reggie Phillips run set up by a 62-yard carry by Dana Anderson.
The North Stars, who scored on their first four possessions, struck two more times in the first quarter on 17- and 22-yard Hammer touchdown receptions for a 21-7 lead after one.
Lins opened the second quarter by breaking free up the middle, then outrunning the Batavia secondary for an 80-yard touchdown run and 28-7 advantage.
The Bulldogs found the best way to slow the North Stars was keep the ball themselves, and they put together a 17-play, 80-yard drive capped by Ben Weerts plunging in from a yard out.
Batavia stayed within 28-14 at halftime when Jake Robinson's blindside hit forced a Mettetal fumble that Maxwell McFadden recovered deep in Bulldog territory.
Chris Edlund opened the third quarter with an interception for the North Stars, and Lins ran 18 yards for a score on the next play.
Anderson, who rushed for 115 yards, scored on an 8-yard run to start Batavia's comeback. Phillips led Batavia with 153 yards on 25 carries, while Lins totaled 220 yards on 23 attempts. The teams combined for 19 penalties for 195 yards.
Weerts threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Robinson to bring the Bulldogs within 35-27 with 4:48 left.
After the defense held, Niemiec broke through and caught the ball while blocking the punt, running untouched into the end zone for a clutch and highly unlikely game-tying score.
"I give all the credit to what Dennis does because those boys keep fighting and fighting and fighting and no lead is safe, but for us, to get over the hump like this is a really big win," Pomazak said. "I thought our kids kept their heads, and Zach did a great job leading us down and putting us in the end zone."