Scouting Batavia vs. Nazareth Class 7A quarterfinal
No. 7 Batavia (9-2) at No. 2 Nazareth Academy (11-0)Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday
Road to the quarterfinals: Batavia defeated No. 26 Thornwood 49-8 and No. 10 Hononegah 48-0; Nazareth Academy defeated No. 31 Libertyville 47-6 and No. 15 Thornton 49-21.
Outlook: This rematch of a 2018 Class 7A semifinal seemed preordained since Nazareth opened the season ranked No. 1 followed by Batavia at No. 2. The Roadrunners pulled away from Batavia in the second half of last season's 47-28 victory and went on to defeat St. Charles North 31-10 for the state title. Seven-time state champion coach Tim Racki and company seek Nazareth's fifth semifinal appearance in six seasons. The Bulldogs aim for their third straight semifinal appearance and fifth since two-time state champion coach Dennis Piron took the reins of his alma mater in 2011. A key matchup is Batavia's ground game against Nazareth's stout front seven defenders. Batavia last week gained 497 total yards to Hononegah's 130. The Bulldogs' running game was virtually unstoppable. They rushed for 363 yards in 47 attempts, a 7.7-yards-per-carry average. Senior Art Taylor carried 19 times for 218 yards and 2 TDs to raise his season totals to 1,259 yards and 14 touchdowns on 191 carries (6.6 avg.). Quinn Urwiler carried 9 times for 40 yards. In nine games this season, the two-way senior standout has rushed for 471 yards and 12 touchdowns in 91 attempts (5.2 avg.). Batavia running backs have enjoyed success, thanks to an offensive line that has improved as the season has progressed. That line features seniors Ryan Ingold (6-foot-6, 275 pounds), Alex Richards (6-4, 240) and David Egan (5-11, 190), juniors Gabe Millane (5-7, 230) and Jackson Heeringa (6-8, 270) and rotating subs Jesse Boorsma (5-11, 225) and John Smith (6-4, 280). Piron said junior tight end Alex Faron (6-4, 220) and junior ultraback Jack Valente (6-5, 260) are also key blockers for an offense that averages 36 points and 228 rushing yards per game. "I think their run game is incredibly powerful," Racki said. "They've always had multiple weapons, but what I guess pops for me this year versus last year is they have a good run game and a good passing game, they're big and physical like always and they move people off the ball real well. Usually, you'll have one featured back, one guy you've got to stop. They've got like three dudes. And they've got tight ends who can block and catch the ball. I really think their play-action game off the run game is dangerous as well. Their ground game, it's really, really impressive to me." The Nazareth defense counters with a pair of veteran senior leaders: fourth-year linebacker Marcus Griffin (5-11, 230) and third-year linebacker Riley Theobald (6-2, 240). Theobald leads the defense with 56 tackles to go with 2 sacks and an interception. Griffin has a team-high 28 solo stops among his 51 tackles, 4 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Other key Nazareth defenders include tackle CJ West (33 tackles, 10 for loss) and senior linebacker Robert Gurley III (28 tackles). Run-stopping safety Alex Carillo is credited with 38 tackles and leads the Roadrunners with 5 interceptions. Piron likes the way his offensive line is playing heading into the matchup with the defending state champs. "If you would have asked me that probably in Week 2 or 3, I would've said we're going to have a heck of a time," he said, "but we've really played really good football the last three or four weeks. We've gotten better and better as the weeks have gone on. I've really been happy with how our offensive line has developed." Batavia junior quarterback Kyle Oroni has thrown for 1,260 yards and 16 touchdowns on 99-of-186 passing (53%). He has been intercepted seven times. Leading receiver Trey Urwiler has more than double the receiving yards (788) of the rest of the Bulldogs combined.
Can a Batavia defense that last season yielded 40 points to the Nazareth offense contain Michigan-bound junior quarterback JJ McCarthy? Last year he burned the Bulldogs for 293 yards and 2 touchdowns on 17-of-23 passing. The 6-foot-2, 183-pound McCarthy is dangerous when flushed from the pocket or standing still. As Batavia outside linebacker Quinn Urwiler said after last year's game: "If you just give that guy three seconds, he'll find the open guy and he'll hurt you." McCarthy has thrown for 2,100 yards and 25 touchdowns on 145-of-233 passing (62.2%). Eight of his passes have been intercepted. Nazareth's top receiver is Tyler Morris. The 6-foot, 165-pound sophomore leads his team by wide margins in receptions (55), passing yards (925), and scoring catches (11). Derek Strongs, who scored on a kickoff return last year after Batavia had drawn within 35-28 late in the third quarter, is Nazareth's leading rusher. The senior has carried 71 times for 721 yards (10.2 avg.) and 9 touchdowns. Two-way performer Carillo boasts 608 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in 89 attempts (6.8 avg.). The Batavia defense counters with Quinn Urwiler (69 tackles, 14 for loss, 3.5 sacks), senior end Josh Costello (32-4-8.5), senior linebacker Reilly Corken (72-8-3), junior middle linebacker Matt "Mojo" Weerts (77-7-2.5) and senior free safety Jackson Williams (80-2-1). Senior safety Sam Barus leads the Bulldogs in tackles (89) and interceptions (4). Last week the Batavia defense limited Hononegah to 20 rushing yards on 9 carries (2.2 avg.). Does avenging last season's playoff loss to Nazareth motivate these Bulldogs? "Beating Nazareth is a nice rallying cry because they beat us last year and it's fun for us to use in the sports world," Piron said, "but in the real world this is a great time we're having and we just want to continue. I want to come back a week from now and be here next Monday and Tuesday with the same boys. I'd like the opportunity to determine the end of our season, not have it determined for us."
Advancement: The winner advances to a semifinal to play the winner of No. 3 Rolling Meadows (11-0) at No. 22 Wheaton Warrenville South (8-3)