Offense is good, but defense is what makes Batavia click

Posted10/3/2017 1:00 AM

Believe it or not, we've reached the two-thirds point of the high school football regular season.

Time to reflect upon a few things:

Plenty of bite: Batavia raised its record to a perfect 6-0 with last Friday's 49-0 victory over Upstate Eight Conference River Division rival Geneva.

Led by talented tailbacks Reggie Phillips, Jeremiah Evers, Art Taylor and Elijah Green, versatile receivers Jared Martin, Eric Peterson, Colin Richter and Tom Stuttle, and experienced quarterback Riley Cooper, the Bulldogs are averaging 35-plus points per game.

However, what makes the Bulldogs even more dangerous is their stingy defense.

Anchored by linemen Mike Bautch, Max McFadden, Ethan Towers, linebackers Luke Weerts, Michael Jansey, Quin Urwiler, Andrew Heinz, and defensive backs Michael Niemiec, Nicholas Conger, Tom Stuttle and John Golden, the Bulldogs' defense has allowed just 18 points (3 points per game) in 6 games with 4 shutouts.

More impressively, 3 of the shutouts have come against Lemont, St. Charles East and Geneva -- teams that own a combined record of 12-6 this season.

While the Bulldogs have shown the ability to wear down enemy offenses, good timing has also been on their side.

"To be fair, we're playing teams that are already worn down (by injuries)," said Batavia defensive coordinator Matt Holm, whose defense limited Geneva to 171 total yards (77 second-half yards) and 7 first downs last weekend.

"We know Geneva isn't going to let you have a sack but we wanted to keep the pressure on and make him (Vikings quarterback Bobby Murray) throw on the run."

Batavia head coach Dennis Piron knows his team's defense is a good one.

"We go against them (in practice)," said Piron. "They're tough. They're very physical and hard to run the ball against. If you can move the ball against them, you can move the ball against anybody.

"They come from a lot of different angles. They challenge you and our defensive backs will cover people. You'll hit a play now and then but it's the consistency of effort that makes it so hard (to play against)."

Weerts, a 6-2, 230-pound junior, leads the team with 51 total tackles (42 solo) and has added 9 tackles for loss and 2 sacks, while the 6-2, 210-pound Jansey has 34 tackles and 4 sacks, including a team-high 12 tackles for loss.

Bautch (team-high 5 sacks), Stuttle (team-best 4 interceptions), Niemiec (42 tackles) and Conger (41 tackles) have complemented the Bulldogs' improved defense.

"It's pretty unbelievable how we're playing," said Niemiec. "If we stay disciplined, we can be pretty dominant."

A year ago, Batavia's defense allowed 228 points during an 8-3 season that saw the Bulldogs' 5-year UEC dominance come to an end (34-game conference unbeaten streak snapped).

Why the sudden turnaround?

For one, improved speed on the defensive side of the ball.

"It's the reason we made the transition," said Holm. "I'd like to have as many linebackers as I possibly can on the field. Look at guys like Max (McFadden). He's playing nose (tackle) just like Dino Simoncelli used to be -- a former linebacker.

"It's an opportunity for us to get even more of that linebacker- and safety-type speed on the field."

Despite their fast start, the Bulldogs will continue to be tested over the final 3 weeks of the regular season, beginning with Friday night's crossover clash against South Elgin (6-0) and senior quarterback Nate Gomez.

"We won't let ourselves get too full of it," said Holm. "When he's (Gomez) throwing, he's going to be on the run and he's going to be taking off by himself. When they need yardage, he's the man.

"We'll see the same thing down the road with (St. Charles) North and Larkin is always athletic in that spot so we've got our challenges ahead."

Playoffs?: While unbeatens Batavia and South Elgin earned playoff spots last weekend, 16 other area teams are still alive in the hunt for a postseason berth.

That list includes 5-1 teams Huntley, Marmion and St. Charles North; 4-2 teams Aurora Christian, Cary-Grove, Jacobs, St. Charles East, St. Edward and West Aurora; and 3-3 teams Aurora Central Catholic, Burlington Central, Geneva, Kaneland and Larkin.

Crystal Lake South and Elgin, each sporting 2-4 marks, must win out to be eligible for the playoffs.

It figures to be a fun-filled regular season home stretch.

Who made that catch?: Nothing personal against these teams but the numbers on Batavia's road uniforms (mustard lettering on white jerseys) and St. Charles North's home uniforms (white lettering on white jerseys) are nearly unrecognizable from the press box.

I know I'm getting old and my eyesight isn't good but when the assistant coaches from the respective teams have a difficult time seeing the uniform numbers, I know I'm not the only one who can't see the players' numbers.

Hello, IHSA …

Craig Brueske can be reached at

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