Batavia chugs past Wheaton North
Senior co-captain Luke Weerts may have appeared to be just about everywhere on the football field, yet his slogan for this year's Batavia team admittedly came out of nowhere.
"I call it the 'Bulldog Train' and we're not going to stop," Weerts said.
"I'm crazy. After a game for some reason I came up with it. I'm just, 'The Bulldog Train's chugging and we're all chugging,' and it went from there."
On Friday the defending Class 7A champions added a few additional loads of success for another postseason run.
The Bulldogs fought off a determined Wheaton North for a 24-13 victory in Wheaton that gave them the first title of the new DuKane Conference and completed their first undefeated regular season since 2012.
Batavia (9-0, 7-0) won last year's state championship and the 2013 Class 6A title with one loss each.
"It's really special. Last year we fell one game short. This year it makes it that much sweeter. We're ready for playoffs," Weerts said. "The chemistry we have between the juniors and the seniors it's just a special thing."
Junior Art Taylor gained a personal-best 226 yards on a single-game high 29 carries with one touchdown and junior Quinn Urwiler had 123 yards on 20 carries with 2 TDs.
Batavia collected 364 of its 452 offensive yards on the ground and had more than twice as many offensive plays.
"I feel honored that they trust me to step up from last year," Taylor said.
"The O-line did what they had to do. That made it a lot easier to make the reads and make the right cuts to get the yards. I didn't think I had that many yards."
Still, Taylor's 14-yard TD run with 3:19 left was needed to all but seal the victory after the Falcons reached the Batavia 41 before an interception at the 12-yard line the next play.
"A very, very rough league. We knew it was going to be very difficult to win all of these games," Batavia coach Dennis Piron said.
"Tonight was basically a playoff game. (Wheaton North) was playing to get in. We were moving the ball. It was very frustrating not to have more point in the first half (10-7 lead) but it made the win that much more special when you have to earn it against a tough team like that."
Wheaton North needed to win to become playoff eligible but instead finished 4-5 for the fourth time in the past five seasons. Last year the Falcons qualified and gave Batavia its closest playoff contest before the Bulldogs prevailed 20-17 in overtime.
On the Falcons' first offensive play Friday, quarterback Nathan Love threw a lateral pass to freshman Mark Forcucci, who took a couple of steps and then completed a 64-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Christian Halstead for a 7-3 lead.
"It was a good effort. Our kids played hard," Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said.
"I hurt for (our players). The last day's the worst day, no doubt about it.
"There's some good kids in the building that will help us down the road, but for right now it's just hard to think about anything else but the seniors."
Batavia became only the third team to score more than 17 points against the Falcons and may have had more if not for two lost first-half fumbles.
About to score at the start of the second quarter, the Bulldogs lost a fumble at the 3 and the Falcons' Riley Dravet recovered in the end zone. On the next possession Urwiler scored on a 6-yard run for a 10-7 halftime advantage.
Batavia's Jack Carlson placed the opening kickoff of the second half in front of the return players and a friendly bounce helped the Bulldogs' Joseph Oroni recover the ball at the 32. Urwiler scored from the 4, but the Falcons responded with a 74-yard drive, aided by Forcucci's 36-yard pass to Eli Odell to the 13. Senior Antowon Tolbert scored from the 1.
Besides starting to linebacker, Weerts played his most snaps at fullback and even carried the ball twice.
Defensively, Urwiler also knocked down two passes at the line. Sophomore running back Trey Urwiler is hoped to be healthy enough to also help in the backfield for the playoffs.
"(Weerts) doesn't get a lot of carries but what he does is destroy other people's defense. He just wears on people because he's so physical," Piron said.
Wheaton North junior linebacker Xander Mueller had two sacks and caused a fumble and sophomore running back Samson Zander gained 80 yards.