The buzz in the stands
Whether this year’s meeting can provide a worthy sequel to the 2012 opener in Carol Stream, where the Bulldogs earned a memorable 42-41 win against the eventual Class 8A state runners-up. Although both teams again boast high-level talent on offense, Batavia coach Dennis Piron said he would not be surprised if this game is less high-scoring since the teams have more insight into how the other will try to attack.
The marquee matchup
Glenbard North running back Justin Jackson vs. Batavia’s linebackers. Jackson, a Northwestern recruit, is capable of making a defense look plodding and inept, even one as capable as Batavia’s.
“I guess you would be as concerned as anyone would when they say you’re playing the No. 1 running back in Illinois,” Piron said.
A Bulldogs linebacking corps led by senior middle LB Anthony Thielk – who says he’s in much better shape after cramping up in last year’s opener – will strive to limit Jackson’s big gains.
“He’s a back that is a slashing type running back who’s got good speed and also runs with power,” Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens said. “He understands what’s going on in front of him.”
Jackson is also a dynamic defensive back for the Panthers but Wilkens said the hot weather might keep the Panthers from playing him both ways as extensively as they prefer.
Batavia has the experience advantage at quarterback, where Micah Coffey returns after an impressive junior season. The Bulldogs plan to showcase a deeper array of receiving targets than what Coffey was accustomed to last year, including Rourke Mullins, who is even faster than explosive Bulldogs running back Anthony Scaccia.
Glenbard North, meanwhile, turns to a new signal-caller, junior Brett Gasiorowski, who stands 6-foot-4, 210 pounds. Wilkens said Gasiorowski “makes the throws,” though refining his timing was a summer-long focus.
If this game is another tight one, kicking could loom large. Piron said Danny Aharoni likely will get first crack as place-kicker after a preseason competition with Howie Morgano.
Best-case scenario for the Bulldogs
Batavia starts quick and feeds off what is sure to be a boisterous, likely sold-out crowd at Bulldog Stadium. Piron said this shapes up to be a record year in everything from student section participation to booster club support.
“There’s a tremendous amount of energy around our fall sports program in general and a tremendous amount of energy around our football program,” Piron said. “Hopefully we do something this season that honors the support we’re getting.”
Best-case scenario for the Panthers
Defensive ends Connor Dombrowski and Cyris Parker – among the linchpins of a new-look Panthers defense – keep Scaccia from successfully bouncing plays to the outside, and collapse the pocket with regularity when the Bulldogs pass. Winning the line of scrimmage fight against a Batavia O-line led by Mitch Krusz, Connor McKeehan and Patrick Gamble is the best way to curtail Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Gaspari’s notoriously thick playbook.
“He runs the right plays at the right times, whether it’s under center or shotgun or two-back or spread or empty,” Wilkens said of Gaspari. “It’s very difficult. We’re a little bit different where 80 percent of the time we’re two-back or under center. It makes it more difficult. It’s more prep time. They do a good job.”
Jay Schwab’s prediction: Batavia 27, Glenbard North 24
Look for Batavia two-way performer Michael Moffatt to start his senior year right with a couple impact plays and Scaccia to demonstrate there’s more than one elite running back on the field. The Bulldogs will need to play clean football, though, because the Panthers – who have advanced to the state semifinal round or deeper four of the past six seasons – are certainly capable of saddling Piron with what would be his first regular season loss as he opens Year 3 as Bulldogs coach.