Batavia responds to St. Charles East's challenge
The Batavia defense went to red alert whenever St. Charles East reached the red zone in the Bulldogs' 21-0 DuKane Conference win at Norris Stadium on Friday.
Five times St. Charles East (4-3, 2-3) drove inside the 20-yard line. Five times Batavia (7-0, 5-0) turned the Saints away.
"When we're down there near the end zone it kind of just motivates us more to get the stop," said Batavia inside linebacker Michael Jansey, who next year will play for Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Turnovers played a large part. The Saints committed three of them inside the 10-yard line.
"We just had a lot of bad things happen down inside the 10," St. Charles East coach Bryce Farquhar said.
The Batavia offense built an early lead with touchdowns on its first two possessions. Combined, the two marches covered 154 yards in 15 plays.
Art Taylor (16 carries, 88 yards) capped the first drive with a 12-yard screen pass from Jack Meyers. The senior quarterback finished off the second drive himself with a 7-yard keeper that staked the Bulldogs to a 14-0 lead with 1:10 left in the first quarter.
The Saints threatened to halve the lead after Ronan Macaluso intercepted a second-quarter pass at the Batavia 20-yard line. Instead, they gave the ball back three players later. Quarterback BJ Crossen tried to connect with Colton Conn on a goal line slant, but the receiver lost his footing and fell to the turf as the ball arrived, leaving an easy interception for junior defensive back Jackson Williams.
The next St. Charles East drive reached the 10-yard line, but what looked to be a successful carry for a first down concluded with a fumble. The Bulldogs recovered at their own 3.
It was the same story in the third quarter. The Saints moved 84 yards in 11 plays to the Batavia 5-yard line -- thanks to 5 rushes by fullback Justin Jett for 35 of his game-high 140 yards -- yet came away empty. Crossen bobbled a fake inside handoff to Jett. He regained the handle but was soon hit and wrapped by Batavia senior linebacker Joseph Oroni, who caused the fumble.
"The take-aways are huge. They're game changers," said Batavia senior linebacker Luke Weerts, a North Dakota State recruit.
The next two St. Charles East drives petered out at the 19-yard line and the 2, respectively. The Saints trailed 14-0 with 9:09 left in the game when Jett was stopped by Weerts a yard shy of the 2-yard line on fourth-and-2.
"It's all assignment football," Weerts said of shutting out the St. Charles East triple option for the second year in a row. "We were staying disciplined. Our defense is very disciplined that way. If we take out every option, there's no way they can gain yards and get scores."
Batavia outgained the Saints 326-286, but the Bulldogs turned the ball over twice themselves.
The Batavia offense, quiet since the first quarter, awoke midway through the fourth to put the game away with a 63-yard, 9-play scoring drive.
Meyers fired a 15-yard pass to Ethan Neibch and 6-foot-4 senior Zack Weber hauled in a 33-yarder to set up first-and-goal at the 10. Weerts scored three plays later on a 2-yard run with 1:27 left to create a three-score cushion.
"We just started to trust our players, trust our O-line that they could give us time and trust our skill players to make plays down the field," said Meyers, who threw for 150 yards and a touchdown on 7-of-13 passing. "We started doing that and we started moving the ball."
Afterward, Farquhar told his assembled team he was proud of how they played.
"We just kind of shot ourselves in the foot," he told reporters. "I wouldn't say that it's something that we fix. We missed some key blocks inside the 10 a lot of times that we have to shore up."