Scouting the Class 7A state championship game: Lake Zurich vs. Batavia
CLASS 7A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 4 Batavia Bulldogs (12-1) vs. No. 3 Lake Zurich Bears (13-0)
When: 4 p.m., Saturday
Where: Huskie Stadium, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb
TV: NBC Sports Chicago+ for the 4A, 7A and 8A championship game; NBC Sports Chicago for all the other title matchups.
Live stream: NBCSportsChicago.com and NBC Sports app.
Batavia playoff run: Batavia def. Glenbard North in the first round, 21-7, Wheaton North in the second round, 20-17 in overtime, Lincoln-Way West in the quarterfinals, 20-10 and Benet in the semifinals, 23-13.
Lake Zurich playoff run: Lake Zurich def. Schaumburg in the first round, 42-6, Plainfield North in the second round, 27-9, St. Rita in the quarterfinals, 49-17 and Mt. Carmel in the semifinals, 14-7.
Head coaches: Dennis Piron, Batavia; Luke Mertens, Lake Zurich.
Batavia playoff history: Batavia is making its eighth straight playoff appearance, its 14th in the last 15 years and its 19th overall. The Bulldogs won the Class 6A state championship in 2013, defeating Richards 34-14 in the title game. The only other time Batavia got to the state championship game was in 2006. The Bulldogs lost to Normal in the Class 6A title game. Last year, Batavia lost to Jacobs in the second round, 28-14.
Lake Zurich playoff history: Lake Zurich is making its 20th playoff appearance and its 15th in 16 years. The Bears won the Class 7A state championship in 2007, defeating Wheaton Warrenville South 7-3 in the title game. The Bears have also placed second three times (2006, 2010, 2013). Last year, Lake Zurich lost in the Class 7A second round to Fenwick, 20-14.
Conference call: Batavia placed second in the Upstate Eight River Conference, behind St. Charles North; Lake Zurich won the always tough North Suburban Conference.
Batavia by the numbers: Batavia is averaging 21 points in the playoffs, and 28.4 points per game over the season. In the playoffs, the Batavia defense is allowing 11.8 points per game, and 8.7 points per game on the season. The Bulldogs have posted four shutouts this season but none in the playoffs. The average margin of victory for the Bulldogs throughout the playoffs is 9.2 points.
Lake Zurich by the numbers: Lake Zurich is averaging 33 points over the playoffs and 33.8 points per game over the season. In the playoffs, the Lake Zurich defense is allowing 9.8 points per game, and 9.1 points per game on the season. The Bears have posted three shutouts this season, but none in the playoffs. The average margin of victory for the Bears throughout the playoffs is 23.2 points.
Batavia leaders: Rushing: Jeremiah Evans (109 carries, 582 yards, 4 touchdowns); Passing: Riley Cooper (138-of-210, 2,001 yards, 27 touchdowns, 7 interceptions); Receiving: Eric Peterson (32 catches, 640 yards, 13 touchdowns); Tackles: Michael Niemiec (120)
Lake Zurich leaders: Rushing: Joey Stutzman (236 carries, 1,094 yards, 15 touchdowns); Passing: Evan Lewandowski (166-of-291, 2,572 yards, 26 touchdowns, 4 interceptions); Receiving: Payton Powell (39 catches, 811 yards, 10 touchdowns); Tackles: Jack Sanborn (113)
Skinny: This is the first time that Lake Zurich and Batavia are meeting in the playoffs, and this is the first time that Batavia is competing in the Class 7A state championship game. Batavia won the Class 6A state title in 2013 and has been competing in 7A since then. Both head coaches, Luke Mertens of Lake Zurich and Dennis Piron of Batavia, agree that their two teams are more similar than different. "They are very similar to us," Mertens said of Batavia. "Their offense is very multiple and they play great defense. They have physical linebackers, an athletic line and this will probably be the best secondary we've seen all year." Piron went a step further than that: "Clearly, this will be the best team we've seen all year." ... Piron says that his team has been playing with fire in its belly since an early exit from the playoffs last year with a second-round loss to Jacobs. That fire has roared throughout the playoffs this season as the motivated Bulldogs have gotten come-from-behind victories in the last three games. "They were very calm," Piron said of his comeback kids. "That loss to Jacobs last year has driven the kids this year." ... Lake Zurich has had its own statement to make this season in the wake of last year's hazing scandal that led to the removal of the former head coach and athletic director and left an opening for Mertens, who is in his first season. He had been the longtime head coach at Lakes up through last season. "There was a need for a re-branding, a retooling, and I was excited for that challenge," Mertens said. "But what I've enjoyed most about this season is seeing the true character of these kids come out. We've got great kids on our team." ... Both teams feature prolific quarterbacks who somehow are slightly off the radar. "Riley Cooper is underrated," Piron said of his quarterback. "He doesn't look the part. He's not 6-foot-5, 200 pounds. But he's a great leader, a tireless worker, a bright kid. We give him a lot to handle because we are very multidimensional." Cooper has no interceptions during the playoffs and loves targeting tall and long, 6-foot-3 receiver Eric Peterson, a basketball star who has 7 touchdown receptions in the playoffs alone ... Lake Zurich quarterback Evan Lewandowski has broken essentially every passing record in school history. "There's not a lot of buzz about Evan," Mertens said in disbelief. "But we can really attack through the air with Evan. He's a kid who's got moxie and arm strength and he's a very good decision-maker." ... Defensively, Batavia will be putting pressure on Lewandowski with an aggressive pass rush. The Bulldogs have had a lot of success getting to quarterbacks this season. Linebacker Michael Jansey has 13 sacks on the season and fellow linebacker Luke Weerts has 8 sacks on the season ... Meanwhile, Lake Zurich is one of the stingiest defenses in the state and boasts Wisconsin recruit Jack Sanborn, its leading tackler at linebacker. Cornerback Austin LePage, who has tied a school record with 10 interceptions on the season, seems to have a real nose for the ball. And linebacker Joey Stutzman is one of the Bears' few two-way players. He is also Lake Zurich's leading rusher. "Joey has an explosive first step and has great vision and is a very physical player. He's all-in on Lake Zurich. I've never seen a practice player like him. As hard as he goes in a game, he goes even harder in practice."
Jerry Fitzpatrick contributed to this report.