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Ranked powerhouses await Bulldogs, Vikings

Published: Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Batavia football coach Dennis Piron thinks the Bulldogs have as difficult of a nonconference schedule as anyone in the state and the toughest in program history.

Geneva could make a similar case about its first two weeks, and the Vikings then host the vaunted Bulldogs the next week.

Welcome to the 2013 season, fellas.

The good news for Batavia is that Friday’s season opener against defending 8A state runners-up Glenbard North and its Week 2 matchup against Richards both are at Bulldog Stadium.

“I don’t know that any of our local schools have ever played the returning 8A runner-up to start a season,” Piron said. “And then our second game is against Oak Lawn Richards, who people may not know much about, but [Richards] lost two games last year. ... So our first two games of the season, we had better be at our best and on our ‘A’ game because we’re facing probably the best two opponents Batavia has ever faced to start a season in the history of our community. 

“I don’t think that’s a stretch in any way. It’ll be a challenge. I think that our kids are up to it.”

The Bulldogs, who have not dropped a regular-season game in Piron’s first two seasons at the helm, memorably edged Glenbard North, 42-41, in last year’s opener in Carol Stream. Richards, meanwhile, also is among the top 25 teams in the Chicago area for 2013 as ranked by high school football analyst “Edgy Tim.”

“We think that we have a very strong football team this year,” Piron said. “But you never know what the season will bring, and when you play opponents of that caliber, you could easily have a loss but be as good as a team as you’ve ever had. You just don’t know how those things are going to work out.”

For Geneva, the larger concern is qualifying for the playoffs as opposed to the possibility of merely absorbing a loss.

The Vikings fell to nonconference powers Oswego and Wheaton North in lopsided fashion the first two weeks last season before also losing to Batavia for an 0-3 start. The Vikings were eventually dismissed from the playoff picture by Week 6, snapping the program’s eight-year streak of advancing to the postseason.

Starting this season with those same three powerhouse foes has Geneva coach Rob Wicinski confronting a sobering challenge, especially with only 14 seniors with which to work.

“The problem is we have no time to get seasoned, you know,” Wicinski said. “They can’t get warmed up. We come out with Oswego, who’s ranked, what are they, 10th in 7A. Then you’ve got Wheaton North, who’s fourth in 7A, then you’ve got of course, Batavia, who’s 17th in 7A. So, I mean, we have no time to get old, but we’ll fight. We’ll see what happens.”

Wicinski hinted that Geneva won’t start out with such a cutthroat nonconference slate much longer.

“We tried to rework it, you know, and get some changes on there,” he said. “We knew there was a shakeup coming down the line with the whole [Upstate Eight Conference adding two teams for 2014], so we decided to sit on it for another year and then time everything up. We’ll have a whole new schedule with the conference, so it was fine.”

The upside of playing such a rugged early schedule is exposing shortcomings that can be addressed before the conference season, not to mention the chance to generate major confidence if the games go well.

Piron said his team has earned the right to think big.

“We’re measuring ourselves against teams that people think could be in the mix again,” Piron said. “Well, we think we’re in the mix. So let’s find out right off the bat.”

• Kevin Druley and Vinnie Duber contributed to this report.

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