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Sports Game of the Week Breakdown: Batavia (1-1, 0-0 Upstate Eight Conference River) at Geneva (1-1, 0-0 UEC River), 7:30 p.m. today

The buzz in the stands

The weather is always a trusty conversation-starter, and the first feels-like-fall Friday night of the season – after a hot week, the temperature is forecast to drop into the 50s tonight – will have Batavia and Geneva fans agreeing on at least one thing: Hoodies and hot chocolate are back in style.

The marquee matchup

Batavia running back Anthony Scaccia vs. Geneva’s linebackers. 

Geneva’s defense – with just one returning starter – was a mystery entering the season, but Vikings coach Rob Wicinski said the unit has impressed him. True, the Vikings have allowed 67 points through two weeks, but Geneva has played strong competition, and the Vikings’ offense and special teams have backed the defense into some precarious spots.

Geneva’s linebacker play – with senior Joe Boenzi and junior Wyatt Shodeen leading the way – has been formidable, but it won’t be easy keeping tabs on slippery Batavia running back Anthony Scaccia. Scaccia hurt the Vikings in last year’s 35-21 Batavia win, rushing for 112 yards and two TDs.

Of course, wrapping up Scaccia at the line of scrimmage would be even better if the Vikings can muscle up.

Wicinski said ends Billy Douds and Matt Loberg and tackle Stephen Kemp – formerly a linebacker himself – have been among the defense’s other top performers.

The X-factors

Batavia wide receiver Rourke Mullins missed the Bulldogs’ loss to Richards with a concussion but is expected to be back.

Mullins’ field-stretching speed adds another welcome ingredient for a Bulldogs offense that is talent-rich but has occasionally been sloppy with the football.

Best-case scenario for the Bulldogs

A hot start that could deflate the Burgess Field crowd before upset thoughts start swirling. 

Geneva won’t be intimidated when it takes the field after starting the season by beating Oswego and playing competitively against DuPage Valley Conference juggernaut Wheaton North.

“High school football, so much of it is what your kids believe, and obviously those kids believe at Geneva,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said.

But the two-time defending UEC River champion Bulldogs have the personnel to strip a team’s confidence in a hurry, and Batavia players would love the chance to remind the Vikings early and often about their recent success in the rivalry.

Best-case scenario for the Vikings

Quarterback Daniel Santacaterina builds upon what has been an impressive connection with receivers Pace Temple (258 receiving yards, three TDs) and Kyle Brown (200 receiving yards) against a Batavia defense that has been burned by big plays early this season.

“I’ve been really pleased with him,” Wicinski said of Santacaterina. “He’s reading the field real well and he’s not holding onto the ball, because Lord knows he doesn’t have much time. He’s manipulating the pocket real well.”

Piron is leery of Geneva’s downfield passing attack that so far has overshadowed the Vikings’ traditional, power running game.

“I think this year they seem to have some other things that they can do and in some ways it makes them a little bit more dangerous,” Piron said. “They seem like they can score right now on any play. You make a mistake right now, and it seems like it’s going to be a touchdown.”

Jay Schwab’s prediction: Batavia 32, Geneva 27

There are dynamic skill-position players on both sides, starting at the quarterback position, so this shapes up as a crowd-pleasing installment of the rivalry. But at some point, a defensive stand or two will loom large, and you’d have to think Batavia’s significant experience edge on that side of the ball will allow the Bulldogs to bounce back from last week’s rare loss.

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