This story is about two great stories.
Saturday's Class 6A state semifinal football game pits host Batavia (12-0) seeking a 13th victory for the first time in its 100-year history, in its first home semifinal game, hungry for its first state championship appearance since 2006.
Visiting Prairie Ridge, a No. 2 seed to the Bulldogs' No. 1, is in its third straight state semifinal. The Wolves long for their first title berth after falling to state champions Cary-Grove in 2009 and Rockford Boylan last season.
For a school that opened only in 1997, Prairie Ridge (11-1) has become a usual suspect.
"I think we have a very good coaching staff here, we've got a lot of good guys that are dedicated to the program," said coach Chris Schremp. "To go along with that we've got great kids who will work hard for us and listen to what we teach them. Along with that you've got great parent support. Put those things together and that's really why I think we've been successful."
Batavia coach Dennis Piron would say the same thing. At a meet-and-greet Wednesday night at the school, players and coaches addressed a crowd of community supporters, with kids clamoring for autographs from the players.
"I think that was the neatest part of it, was all the little school kids," said Piron, once one of them, a local boy made good. "We're always so happy about the support we get from the community in Batavia. It's a wonderful place to coach, a wonderful place to live and raise a family."
All this warm and fuzzy stuff will temporarily halt between the sidelines when Batavia (12-0) meets Prairie Ridge at 1 p.m. It's a game Schremp depicts as a battle of his ground-based team's overall speed against Batavia's size, power and passing game.
Prairie Ridge, which runs the triple-option on offense and a blitzing 3-5-3 defense, has outscored its opponents 520-101 on the season and 139-14 in the playoffs, including a 49-0 first-round shutout of Marmion. The Wolves' sole loss came in Week 9, 22-21 to Cary-Grove on a 2-point conversion run in overtime that dropped them into a first-place tie in the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division.
In last week's 35-7 quarterfinal win, Nazareth was able to cross the 50-yard line once, on a penalty, said Roadrunners' coach Tim Racki. Nazareth's sole touchdown was on a fumble return Prairie Ridge fumbled 6 times last year against Rockford Boylan but that was after Wolves cornerback John Borst did the same thing to Nazareth out of the gate.
Linebacker Collin Corcoran, 6-foot-4, 220, runs downhill for a team-high 82 tackles but another linebacker, Brad Simms, blitzes with impact: 75 tackles, 10 for loss, 7 sacks. Senior linebacker Josh Hrudicka is third with 67 tackles, and Racki said defensive linemen like 6-4, 220 Eric Odden and nose tackle Ralph Nardi do a good job of occupying linemen and letting those linebackers and free safety Sean Folliard (62 tackles) clean up.
Continued creative play calling as well as pass protection and lane creation by Bulldogs linemen Nick Pappas, Brock Batka, Ben Link, Zack Schoettes and Sebastian Vermaas will be key in allowing Batavia quarterback Noel Gaspari to add to his 2,786 yards and 27 touchdowns passing, to only 4 interceptions.
"It's a little bit different of a passing attack than we've seen so far this year, that's probably my biggest concern, is just their offense," Schremp said. "And then their size on defense. They're an unbelievably big team and we've got to be ready to take on that power."
Batavia's front four of Alec Lyons, Austin Lewis, Mack Brown and Marquise Jenkins averages about 6-2, 240 pounds. Roving terror Cole Gardner (6-6, 250) and rotating linemen such as Mickey Watson (6-2, 200) look to stuff that option.
Wolves quarterback Nick Nissen runs the no-huddle set. He's run for 757 yards, thrown for 1,143 and accounted for 33 touchdowns. Backs Jordan Getzelman and Connor Greenwald have run for 1,112 and 892 yards, respectively, with 38 total touchdowns.
"First of all, we cannot lose the line of scrimmage," Piron said. "We must be able to play our assignments and then tackle. A lot of people have tried to do this against these guys all year long without, obviously, a lot of success."
Batavia, which rallied to win its first two playoff games before last week's 42-0 dredging of Lakes, aims to ride smashmouth defense, offensive diversity and in a squeaker, perhaps the leg of Brandon Clabough, who has 7 field goals to the promised land.
"Last week's theme was to play at home for the semifinal," Piron said. "I think this week's theme is let's look at where we are, a game away from the big show. I think the kids are excited about this opportunity ... They don't want the season to end."