Wheaton North bends but doesn't break, beats Batavia
Riley Dravet ran to join his Wheaton North teammates to pose for pictures in front of the south end zone, disregarding the rain drops falling.
Nothing was getting between the Falcons and that patch of turf.
Time and again Saturday, Batavia drove up and down the field. Each time Wheaton North rose to the occasion to turn it away.
Dravet had the most dramatic moment. The senior safety returned a fumble on a high snap 80 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes, and Wheaton North went on to a 16-7 win over Batavia in a matchup of the respective DuKane Conference divisional winners at NIU's Huskie Stadium.
"We've been facing adversity this whole year," said Dravet, a Drake recruit. "It was great playing together with everyone this last time."
Batavia on seven occasions had drives reach the Wheaton North 30-yard line, but the Bulldogs came up empty on all seven. Hugh Werner recovered a Bulldogs' fumble at the 3-yard line, and Batavia missed a 26-yard field goal in the first half. Kaiden Libby intercepted a pass in the end zone on the last play of the half, and the Falcons (5-1) forced three turnovers on downs in the second half.
"We bent quite a bit, but we never did break," Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said.
Batavia (4-2), trailing 10-7, started its second-to-last drive with 6:34 left, and quickly went 61 yards in five running plays to get to a second-and-goal.
But a snap sailed over quarterback Trey Urwiler's head, Dravet scooped it up and went untouched for a stunning score and 16-7 lead with 3:46 left.
"Muffed snap, Rex Kroger was able to take [Urwiler] and I had the rest of the boys blocking for me to the end zone," Dravet said.
That Dravet was the man of this particular moment warmed Wardynski.
Dravet started on varsity as a sophomore, but suffered a devastating injury at the DuKane track and field meet in March of 2019, his hamstring completely detaching from his hip bone. Dravet barely played as a junior, but has been back full strength this season, contributing in all three phases.
"He is such a great ballplayer for us, he does so much on offense and on defense and on special teams," Wardynski said. "For him to finish on top is great to see."
Batavia (4-2), meanwhile, was left smarting over a game the Bulldogs felt they should have won. Batavia outgained Wheaton North 417-230, with 335 rushing yards. Josh Dornink ran for a game-high 127 on 18 carries.
"We finish drives we win that game," said Urwiler, an NIU recruit, who ran for 71 yards and threw for 82 on 9-for-19 passing. "It just felt like we couldn't get it in. This one is going to burn for a while."
All the game's scoring was in the first quarter, with a big start for Batavia.
On the third play from scrimmage Jalen Buckley intercepted Wheaton North's Mark Forcucci and returned it 51 yards for a TD and 7-0 lead.
But Forcucci came right back on the next play, a 54-yard catch-and-run to Seth Kortenhoeven that led to a 21-yard Trace Hrgich field goal. After a Batavia three-and-out, the Bulldogs' only of the game, Forcucci led a five-play, 71-yard drive capped by his 20-yard TD pass to Casey Morrison for a 10-7 lead with 5:20 left in the first quarter.
"That [interception] is never the way you want to start the game obviously, but all week our coaches talked about bouncing back and dealing with adversity," said Forcucci, a junior, who was 7-for-16 for 148 yards. "That's how you tell the character of a man. We knew we'd have some adversity."
Batavia, which had won DuKane Conference titles in 2018 and 2019, dropped two of its last three games this season, and only managed a combined one offensive touchdown in them. The Bulldogs, who lost starting quarterback Kyle Oroni to a torn ACL in Week 2, committed six turnovers in a loss to Wheaton Warrenville South.
"For the most part we looked fantastic and some red zone things just didn't go our way," Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. "We had two games this year that were just so bizarre. I'm beside myself for these boys."
Wheaton North, meanwhile, completed an impressive bounce-back from back-to-back 4-5 seasons, making the most of the abbreviated season. And the Falcons did it with a large group of underclassmen, led by their quarterback and running back Brayton Maske.
"For us to come out here and seal the conference championship, especially in a year like this with no playoffs, means so much," Forcucci said. "To see these seniors come out here and be successful means everything."