Resilient Batavia bounces Benet
It all felt so familiar for Batavia's football team.
The early deficit. The calm comeback.
The return to DeKalb.
The Bulldogs will play for the Class 7A state championship after Saturday's 23-13 semifinal victory over Benet at Lisle's Benedictine University.
Fourth-seeded Batavia (12-1) fell behind for the third straight playoff game, this time 13-0 by the end of the first quarter. Similar to last week's win over Lincoln-Way West, though, the Bulldogs stormed back to take a 20-13 halftime lead and closed the game with 23 straight points.
The reward is a trip to DeKalb -- site of the program's first state championship victory in 2013 -- to play No. 3 Lake Zurich (13-0), a 14-7 winner over Mt. Carmel, in the 7A title game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Northern Illinois University.
"A lot of heart and a lot of teamwork," said Bulldogs senior Jared Martin. "Just overcoming adversity every week."
Seventeenth-seeded Benet (9-4) built a 13-0 first-quarter lead. Matt Boyle, back from an injury suffered in Week 5, threw a 2-yard pop pass for a touchdown to Devin Petersen. On the Redwings' next possession, keyed by Colin Gillespie's 26-yard pass to Jack Eschenbach, Boyle burst in from a yard out for another touchdown.
At that point it looked like nothing would stop the Redwings.
Then the switch flipped in Batavia's favor.
"We kind of felt that turn and we knew we had to buckle down," Petersen said. "But no matter how hard we tried, Batavia was the better team."
After allowing Benet 7 first-quarter first downs, Batavia's defense allowed two the rest of the game. And the offense came alive in the second quarter.
"I don't know what that's about," Batavia coach Dennis Piron said of his team's early deficits. "I'm just glad our kids don't panic. Our coaches don't panic. No one points fingers. No one worries. I felt like we were feeling them out a little bit."
First came a 22-yard touchdown pass from Riley Cooper, who threw for 107 yards, to Eric Peterson. Carter Gette recovered a Benet fumble on the ensuing kickoff, leading to Cooper's 6-yard scoring pass to Peterson.
Batavia's defense forced a three-and-out, and Cooper soon threw for his third touchdown. Art Taylor snagged a screen pass, broke a few tackles and scored 28 yards later to give Batavia a 20-13 lead two minutes before halftime.
"The coaches are finding routes and Cooper's just throwing it perfectly," Peterson said. "Both those catches were right where he led me and right in the end zone."
Benet came up with a big play in the final minute of the half when Jack Cooney blocked a punt but, despite getting the ball at the Bulldogs' 13-yard line, the slick conditions led to a muffed field-goal attempt.
"It still hasn't hit me yet, especially after that great first quarter," said Eschenbach, who had 6 catches for 142 yards. "I really did have a good feeling about going on, but we did accomplish a lot this year."
Benet stayed within a score throughout the third quarter but couldn't get anything going offensively. Batavia added to its margin with a 35-yard field goal by Jack Carlson.
"All of us set that goal to play in the state championship," said Benet coach Pat New. "Right now it's disappointment, and it's tough to handle because we really did want to play one more week."
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