KCChronicle.com/preps Game of the Week: BATAVIA (7-0, 4-0 UPSTATE EIGHT CONFERENCE RIVER DIVISION) AT ST. CHARLES EAST (5-2, 4-0 UEC RIVER), 7:30 p.m. today
What the crowd will be buzzing about: The unofficial official UEC River title game. With both teams set to face struggling U-46 foes next week to end the regular season, the winner gains prime position for a league championship.
“It’s an honor to be able to take the field in a game like this,” Bulldogs coach Dennis Piron said.
Batavia will have it rolling if... The Bulldogs return to complete fluidity.
While the sight of a fired-up Piron wasn’t new after last week’s 35-20 win against St. Charles North, Piron’s postgame message was by no means a broken record. He challenged players to keep pushing and to realize there still are hurdles ahead as the team looks to defend its conference title and beyond. Batavia graduated several key players from last season’s 6A state semifinalist but still finds itself staring at the prospect of a deep postseason run.
“I think sometimes it’s unrealistic to think you can restock or reload because it’s high school sports,” Piron said. “The things we talk to our kids about and what we’re concerned about are in-house matters. But they’ve really stuck with each other, had great leadership and the work ethic is second to none.”
Healthy for much of the season, the Bulldogs get defensive back Vinny Cerezo (shoulder) back at full strength. Running back/linebacker Anthony Thielk also is expected back after sitting out the second half of the North game (illness).
What a fly on the wall in Batavia’s locker room might hear: “We’re a team that everyone’s out to get.
“Another kitchen sink’s coming our way tonight. This is a fun place to play with the band and the atmosphere, and they’ve even got a new scoreboard here, too. Let’s break it in. We’re confident about what we do wherever we go, so why should that change tonight?
“We’ll see what our ceiling is, but I think we can get better and I think you guys would be disappointed if we didn’t challenge you every week. Tonight brings a built-in hurdle, but I know we’re ready to clear it.”
St. Charles East will have it
rolling if... Its offensive line controls Bulldogs speed rusher Marquise Jenkins and the rest of Batavia’s aggressive front seven.
East played choppy at times against Streamwood last week and knows tonight it won’t have the luxury of making up for miscues against a ho-hum foe. Batavia averages 36-plus points per game and keeps defenses guessing with multiple formations. Sustaining drives behind a steady offensive line that includes last year’s center, Tommy Wilson, at right tackle, will be crucial as the Saints aim to keep the Bulldogs’ offense on the sidelines.
“They try to confuse you and do a lot of things when they have the ball, and they do it really well,” East coach Mike Fields said. “I give them all the credit in the world, so we’ve got our hands full trying to contain them and trying to stay with them.”
The Saints also will work to be a mirror image, establishing big strikes in the passing game to complement sturdy running back Erik Anderson.
What a fly on the wall in St. Charles East’s locker room might hear: “Life’s about challenges, guys, and we know we’ve got one tonight with these Bulldogs. They’re good. It’s going to take a heck of a big game for us to put it together. But what have we said all year long? We worry about what we can control.
“If we go out there, if we play our game and do what we’re supposed to do, I like our chances at the end of the night. You guys are getting better every week, and I’m real proud of how you’ve responded this season. Here’s a great chance to answer the bell.”
Kevin Druley’s prediction: St. Charles East 27, Batavia 21 East hits on a handful of big offensive plays, then tightens things defensively as Batavia moves the ball between the 20s.
Special teams were a deciding factor the last time Norris Stadium hosted football. The Saints take a chance in the kicking game one way or the other to set up a decisive score.
Larkin (2-5, 1-3 Upstate Eight Conference River Division) at St. Charles North (3-4, 3-2 UEC River)When: 7:30 p.m. todayLast week: Larkin lost its fourth straight, 24-7, to Bartlett; St. Charles North challenged Batavia in a 35-20 defeat.
Key for the North Stars: North knows it must win both of its final two games to become playoff-eligible for the first time since 2009, but somehow discussing the urgency hasn’t grown redundant. “It really could go without saying,” North Stars coach Mark Gould said. “The team has been talking about it all week, but as coaches we do remind them – especially if concentration wanes – of the importance of this game. This team does have a strong desire to win out the remainder of the regular season.” Two players absent from the Batavia game return from injury to bolster both lines: defensive end/right guard Wes Pasholk and left guard Eric Giers. Pasholk’s agility should be especially helpful against Larkin’s speedy offensive backfield.
Metea Valley (2-5) at Geneva (2-5)When: 7:30 p.m. todayLast week: Metea Valley snapped a five-game skid, beating East Aurora, 55-12; Geneva thumped Elgin, 49-6.Key for the Vikings: Seeking a third win in four tries on its new home turf, Geneva remains wary of the Mustangs’ aptly named connection of quarterback Blaise Bell and wide receiver Blaze Miller gaining speed on the artificial surface. “They’re very skilled on the perimeter,” Vikings coach Rob Wicinski said, “and they seem like they don’t want to give up on the passing game, the deep stuff, so that’ll be an interesting test for our [defensive backs] to be able to outlast that gunfest.” Another heavy dose of senior running back Bobby Hess figures to neutralize the visitors’ firepower in this UEC crossover. Geneva’s offense looks to stay on the field longer still, as Wicinski said senior left tackle Jake Bastin (knee) “might get some duty” in the Burgess Field finale after being sidelined for much of the season.
Sycamore (5-2, 2-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) at Kaneland (7-0, 3-0 NI Big 12 East)
When: 7:30 p.m. todayLast week: Sycamore defeated Rochelle, 26-14; Kaneland throttled Yorkville, 55-0.Key for the Knights: Three weeks removed from stifling Rochelle’s running game, a Knights defense that has yielded just 88 points this season braces for Sycamore back Austin Culton (6.3 yards per rush and 10 touchdowns on 136 carries). “They have a pretty good running game going. That’s going to be a challenge for us,” Knights coach Tom Fedderly said. “They’ve got some weapons on special teams that we’ve got to look out for.” The Knights return to Peterson Field on a 26-game regular-season winning streak and with a 13-0 all-time record in NI Big 12 East play. Fedderly said junior quarterback Drew David (74 for 127/1,483 yards/19 touchdowns) is ready to go despite a practice injury earlier this week.
Aurora Christian (7-0, 5-0 Suburban Christian Conference Blue) at Montini (5-2, 4-1 SCC Blue)
When: 7:30 p.m. todayLast week: Aurora Christian handled Immaculate Conception, 47-20; Montini fell to Marian Central, 49-24.Key for the Eagles: Entering the season, none of the SCC’s eight smallest-enrollment teams had defeated either Marian Central, Marmion, Montini or St. Francis. The Eagles do not draw Marian this season, but have the opportunity to beat three of the Big Four if they can knock off the Broncos, the defending 5A state champ. “Obviously, they’re Montini. Enough said, I guess,” said Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe, whose team won the 3A title last season. “They had a tough game [Friday], where the mojo really turned around in the third quarter. We’ve got a great task ahead of us. You know they’re going to be really hungry to win again.” Montini, eyeing its 20th straight playoff berth, has been banged up. Quarterback Alex Wills and cornerback Matt Diedrick are questionable.
Aurora Central Catholic (6-1, 4-1 SCC Gold) at Marmion (2-5, 2-3 SCC Blue)
When: 7:30 p.m. todayLast week: Aurora Central Catholic topped Guerin, 55-0; Marmion edged St. Francis, 14-6.Key for the Chargers: Brian Bohr and Julian Rios could again shoulder much of the load at running back with Steven Amoni questionable due to injury after missing last week’s game. The SCC Gold leaders still are deep at the position, and rushed for 366 yards last week.Key for the Cadets: Marmion’s physical front four of Alex Fritz, Mike Hughes, Joe Talbot and Matt Smith controlled matters through much of the St. Francis game and are eager for another challenge from the Chargers in the SCC crossover. Despite a sub-.500 record, Marmion coach Dan Thorpe has been grateful for a tough schedule. Last week afforded Cadets from the Tri-Cities to play some of the friends they grew up with. This week, it’s the Aurora players’ turn. “This is for bragging rights for the rest of your life,” Thorpe said. “You’ll talk about this game with your buddies, so let’s make sure we’re talking good things about it.”
Burlington Central (5-2) at Rock Falls (1-6)
When: 7 p.m. todayLast week: Burlington Central was blanked by Richmond-Burton, 28-0; Rock Falls was clipped at Mendota, 14-13.Key for the Rockets: With hopes of a BNC East title still in play – provided it gets some help – BC can not get caught looking ahead to next week’s meeting with league-leading North Boone in this conference crossover.
St. Francis (3-4, 1-4 SCC Blue) at Guerin (1-6, 0-5 SCC Gold)
When: 1 p.m. SaturdayLast week: St. Francis suffered its fourth straight loss, 14-6, to Marmion; Guerin stumbled, 55-0, against Aurora Central Catholic
Key for the Spartans: Open the playbook and have some fun. The frustrated Spartans haven’t won since Week 3, while the Gators haven’t scored since Week 2. Needing to win out to become playoff-eligible, St. Francis ought to surge in its first step in this SCC crossover.
Chicago Christian (2-5, 1-4 SCC Gold) at Wheaton Academy (3-4, 3-2 SCC Gold)
When: 7 p.m. todayLast week: Chicago Christian lost to Walther Lutheran in a shootout, 48-40; Wheaton Academy rallied past St. Edward, 12-7Key for the Warriors: Keep John Gemmel hydrated. Wheaton Academy’s go-to force at running back and linebacker has had plenty of impact on the team’s three-game winning streak that has it pondering a shot at the postseason.
TRAVEL GUIDE Burlington Central fans who can hit the road for tonight’s game at Rock Falls early might visit Selmi’s Pumpkin Patch before kickoff. Open through Oct. 31 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., the property at 1206 Dixon Ave. offers apples, corn and mums along with its title attraction.
PUT IT ON THE BOARD Workers at St. Charles East installed a new scoreboard equipped with brighter LED lighting at Norris Stadium this week. All but the bottom message board feature are expected to be ready for tonight’s game against Batavia. “Not the big, huge mother, but it’s pretty good,” East coach Mike Fields said. “Just keep it simple. It’s fun.” As Fields attests, the Fair-Play Scoreboards product is not the rumored college-caliber display that was on boosters’ lips a few years back. Still, it’s an upgrade new athletic director Mike Sommerfeld targeted shortly after starting July 1. Bulbs should be more visible in sunlight, and the message board at the bottom of the display is expected to be functional by the spring. “It’s exciting to have,” Sommerfeld said. “We think the community should be happy with it. Our teams definitely have been happy with it.”
SLEEPER GAME OF THE WEEK Only insomnia could lead someone to thinking a matchup of two defending state champions might fly under the radar. To be sure, Aurora Christian (Class 3A) and Montini (5A) still are excelling after championship seasons in 2011. Take away the drama brewing in the UEC River, and this would be a dandy GOW. As it stands, it still could be a classic, as the visiting Eagles look to keep their unbeaten season alive.
PLAYOFF WATCH St. Charles North, St. Francis and Wheaton Academy each are 3-4 and must win out to become playoff-eligible on Selection Saturday, Oct. 20. St. Francis has lost four straight after starting 3-0 but faces hapless Guerin on Saturday.