ST. CHARLES – Batavia held on to its unbeaten record and clinched at least a share of the Upstate Eight Conference River Division football title Friday.
Perhaps the biggest reason was that players didn’t hold their breath.
St. Charles East slashed into Batavia’s lead late in the third quarter and threatened to tighten the gap further in the final minutes. Turns out the Bulldogs were exhaling at normal intervals throughout a 19-6 win.
“No sweat. No sweat,” senior defensive end Marquise Jenkins said. “East scored, and after that it was just like, they’re not going to score again. We had shutdown ‘D.’ Stopped them, stopped them on goal line, just tightened up ship.”
Batavia (8-0, 5-0 UEC River) can win its second straight conference title outright with a victory at struggling Elgin to close the regular season next week.
East (5-3, 4-1) hosts similarly scuffling Larkin, needing a win to cement a playoff berth for the first time since 2009.
Saints coach Mike Fields kept his postgame talk with players relatively brief, stressing that the team challenged the Bulldogs in stretches and shouldn’t sulk for very long.
“Batavia is a [heck] of a team. We give it to them. They’re a great, great, great football team,” Saints wide receiver/defensive back Brannon Barry said. “We stuck with them at some points, and we were really proud of what we did here today, but obviously we wish the ball could have came our way in certain situations.”
Barry’s 50-yard reception from Jimmy Mitchell set up Erik Anderson’s 1-yard touchdown run with 3:22 to go in the third quarter. With linebacker and kicker Pat Frio sidelined with a deep knee bruise, East was unable to convert the extra point and trailed, 19-6.
While it didn’t visit the end zone after halftime, Batavia’s offense nonetheless clicked when it had to. Anthony Scaccia rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown, while Zach Strittmatter had seven receptions for 88 yards and a score.
The defense, susceptible to big plays in last week’s home win against St. Charles North, limited the Saints for much of the night, especially on the ground. With linebackers Cullin Rokos and Mickey Watson supporting the front four, Batavia held Anderson and Joe Hoscheit to 101 yards on 30 carries, an average of just more than 3 yards a tote.
“From here, we’ve just got to keep going up,” said Bulldogs senior Adam Hunger, an offensive lineman who also has seen time as a wingback blocker and goal-line defender this fall. “We know we’ve got Elgin next week. We don’t want to look past them, but we want to look forward to the playoffs. The coaches are really expressing that we’ve got to get better every week.”
East installed a new scoreboard this week, and for a short time, the panel between the LED light display and top “St. Charles East Fighting Saints” sign read “Home of the Clippers” until it was covered up.
Changing some of their offensive identity might have spurred the Saints to more than 89 first-half yards. As Batavia gradually gained offensive steam, East still could be confident about where it stood.
After forcing the Bulldogs into a pair of 3-and-outs on their first two possessions, the Saints assumed the position of the rest of their UEC River brethren, watching Scaccia, Anthony Thielk and Strittmatter impact the game with touchdowns.
Scaccia capped a 39-yard drive with a 1-yard run late in the first quarter, but the Saints recovered to limit Batavia on its next two possessions. That included an especially promising chance for the Bulldogs, who used a 61-yard Scaccia run on first down to advance to East’s 11.
The Saints’ secondary held after that, forcing quarterback Micah Coffey into three incompletions, including a pass intended for Strittmatter on 4th and 12 from the 13. Defensive backs LJ Rutkowski, Barry and Andrew Badowski, among others, shared coverage of Strittmatter, and largely were effective until the waning moments before halftime.
With 4th-down conversion attempts now nearly a staple of the attack – Batavia has attempted just one field goal this season – Coffey found Strittmatter for 18 yards on a key 4th and 2 from the East 37. One play later, the pair connected for a 19-yard score that make it 19-0 with Daniel Albrecht’s ensuing point-after
East, meantime, turned to the 4th-down conversion attempt by necessity in the second half. A fake punt near midfield in the third quarter was snuffed, and the Bulldogs pressured Mitchell into one last incompletion on 4th and goal from the 9 with 1:50 to go.
“They’ve got eight guys in the box like that, it’s a bear,” Fields said. “It’s tough. Then we’ve got to throw, then they’re double-teaming our best guy [Barry] and we couldn’t get it to our other guys, so it was tough. But we fought. I give that to my guys. We just came up against a heck of a team.”
BATAVIA 19, ST. CHARLES EAST 6 Batavia 6 13 0 0 – 19 St. Charles East 0 0 6 0 – 6
B – Scaccia 1 run (kick failed), 3:54SECOND QUARTER
B – Thielk 50 run (pass failed), 4:36
B – Strittmatter 19 pass from Coffey (Albrecht kick), 0:14THIRD QUARTER
E – Anderson 1 run (kick failed), 3:22
RUSHING – Batavia: Scaccia 23-175, Thielk 4-61, Coffey 1-12, Hunger 1-5, Miller 1-(-1), St. Charles East: Anderson 20-52, Hoscheit 10-49, Mitchell 1-0. Totals: 31-101.PASSING – Batavia: Coffey 14-24-173-1-0. St. Charles East: Mitchell 14-27-177-0-0. Anderson 1-1-(-4)-0-0.RECEIVING – Batavia: Strittmatter 7-88, Mullins 3-34, Thielk 2-27, Frazier 1-18, Berry 1-6. St. Charles East: Barry 7-110, Munroe 1-20, Anderson 3-10, Hoscheit 2-12, Zajicek 1-10, Mitchell 1-(-4).