Batavia defeats Lake Zurich in OT thriller for Class 7A state championship
DeKALB -- Team captains, exhausted from a 14-game grind and state championship that refused to end, met at midfield on Huskie Stadium's turf.
Football players from Batavia and Lake Zurich needed to summon more energy.
"We went to shake hands for the overtime," Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. "The demeanor of the Lake Zurich kids and our guys on the field ... unbelievable. Everybody was just thrilled, both teams, to get more time to play with their brothers."
One more time.
"I just think it was a sign of respect for both teams," Lake Zurich all-state linebacker Jack Sanborn said. "Both teams competed hard."
One team triumphed, reached into the bleachers to slap hands with its fans and hoisted the Class 7A championship trophy Saturday night. Batavia celebrated a 21-14 win, getting the winning touchdown on quarterback Riley Cooper's 10-yard pass to wide receiver Tommy Stuttle in the first overtime.
Batavia (13-1) captured its second state title, while denying Lake Zurich (13-1) its second. Piron coached the Bulldogs to the Class 6A championship in 2013.
"We got free football," a smiling Piron said of the overtime. "That's what we've been banking on all along. One more week. One more practice."
Lake Zurich, which was playing in its fifth title game and first since 2013, looked in position late in the fourth quarter to cap what would have been a come-from-behind win.
The Bears' fourth forced turnover came with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, when Joey Stutzman jarred the ball loose from running back Quin Urwiler. Bears safety Robert Hinsberger picked the ball and ran to the 50. It was the third turnover in as many possessions for Batavia.
"Our heads are just spinning," Cooper said. "We don't know really what to think, but our coaches are doing a great job of calming us down on the sideline. We've been in this situation before. We know how to react to it."
Lake Zurich advanced the ball to 14, but quarterback Evan Lewandowski fumbled and lost 4 yards, setting up Donnie Dawson for a 35-yard field goal, which the senior pulled left with 1:37 left.
"He's been money for us all year," Bears tight end Matthijs Enters said of Dawson, who made 61 PAT kicks and 6 field goals this season. "It's not his fault. We could have gained another 3 yards or something to not put him in that position. It's a lot of pressure with a ton of people watching you. I don't think I could have made that kick if I kicked it a million times."
Lake Zurich won the OT coin toss and elected to go on defense first. After Cooper threw the ball out of the end zone on first down, he dumped a pass to Stuttle over the middle inside the 5, and Stuttle raced into the end zone.
"We ran that play a couple of times earlier in the game," said Cooper, who finished 28 of 42 for 295 yards. "I was talking to Coach (Sean) Anderson on the headset, and he said it's going to be open; I just got to be patient. Offensive line did a great job, and Tom did a great job of getting open. He made a play."
"Riley put (the ball) right where we needed it," Stuttle said. "All I had to do was catch it."
Lake Zurich then got the ball. Stuttle tipped away Lewandowski's intended pass to Enters by the right pylon on first down. Lewandowski then just missed Enters on a corner route in the end zone on second down.
"I just missed him," said Lewandowski, who threw TD passes of 6 and 39 yards to Enters in the second and third quarters, respectively. "My fault."
Batavia then held again on the next two plays (two more incomplete passes), celebrating when Lewandowski's pass on fourth down landed out of the end zone. The Bulldogs held Stutzman to 48 yards rushing on 17 carries. Lewandowski finished 13 of 29 for 179 yards.
"Our defense is sensational -- has been all year long," Piron said.
Batavia manufactured a 13-play, 68-yard drive on the game's opening series but stalled at the 7 when Sanborn (11 tackles) dropped Urwiler for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-1. Two possessions later, Cooper hit Peterson over the middle from 12 yards out, putting the Bulldogs up 7-0 with 1:31 left in the opening quarter.
On Batavia's next series, Cooper's 10-yard pass to Peterson capped a seven-play, 69-yard drive and marked the ninth time in five playoff games that the duo hooked up on a touchdown pass.
Down 14-0 with 8:06 left in the half, unbeaten Lake Zurich remained unfazed.
"We've been slow starting for a lot of playoffs," Bears coach Luke Mertens said. "I think that's part of why no one really did panic."
Lake Zurich finally got its offense moving late in the half, as Lewandowski's 20-yard pass to Michael Gallus highlighted a 12-play, 65-yard drive that culminated with Lewandowski's 6-yard pass to Enters in the end zone with 38 seconds left.
Lake Zurich evened the score with 3:51 to go in the third, when Lewandowski feathered a 39-yard pass to Enters over the middle.
Lake Zurich got Anthony Mangano's seventh interception of the season and a fumble recovery from Sanborn but couldn't capitalize. Jack Fabbrini intercepted Cooper in the second quarter, leading to Enters' first touchdown catch.
For Lake Zurich, the game capped a roller-coaster 13 months, that started with a hazing scandal late last fall.
"Lake Zurich has been the greatest place ever," said Stutzman, the Bears' 5-foot-7 running back/linebacker. "It's been the most fun four years of my life."