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Bulldogs’ pass rush overwhelms foes

Batavia's Josh Leonhard (1) takes down Elgin quarterback Ryan Sitter during their home game Oct. 25 against Elgin.
Batavia's Josh Leonhard (1) takes down Elgin quarterback Ryan Sitter during their home game Oct. 25 against Elgin.

Rockford Boylan football coach John Cacciatore respectfully sized up Batavia’s defensive line as a “violent” bunch, and Bulldogs defensive end Noah Frazier did little to refute that notion in voicing his zeal for sacking quarterbacks.

“I always like what Deacon Jones, a great defensive end, said – he said ‘When you tackle a quarterback, it’s like you sack a city. It’s a siege,’ ” Frazier said.

“It’s like you take the whole offense, put them in a bag and beat them with a baseball bat. Good stuff.”

That statement might not give Boylan quarterback Demry Croft the warm-and-fuzzies ahead of Saturday’s IHSA Class 6A state semifinal in Rockford, but neither has reviewing the Bulldogs’ game film.

Batavia’s defense has amassed 511/2 sacks on the season, or more than four a game.

While returning starting defensive linemen James Millette and Ryan Minniti are enjoying their second straight strong seasons, the emergence of juniors Josh Leonhard and Frazier at defensive ends has taken the Bulldogs’ pass rush to an elite level.

Leonhard (11 sacks) and Frazier (10) have both flirted with breaking the program’s single-season sack record as the playoffs have unfolded.

“We’ve had our share of those types of [pass rushers] who have done well but these two kids, it’s like they’re in a battle to get to the quarterback every, single play, and they’re on each side of you,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “What are you going to do? You can’t really key on one guy.”

Leonhard acknowledged he and Frazier have had quite the internal sacks competition.

“Coming into the playoffs, I think Noah was ahead of me, and then I was ahead of Noah, and he was ahead of me – it’s just been a battle the whole way through the playoffs,” Leonhard said.

Leonhard and Frazier weren’t in place as the starting ends to begin the season, as Leonhard fought an ankle injury and Frazier – who also plays tight end on offense – rotated in defensively at linebacker and on a deep defensive line that also includes Dean Simoncelli and Stefyn Cortez.

Frazier, whose father, Jeff, was a defensive end at Wheaton College, said his versatility has made the season all the more enjoyable.

“It’s cool to see what different guys on the field have to do at different times, and how that helps the team,” Frazier said.

The lanky, speed-rushing Leonhard credited Minniti and Millette for often commanding double-teams to help ease his path to the quarterback. Practicing against a quality Bulldogs offensive line also has been a boost, along with strong coverage throughout the defense that has forced quarterbacks to be more deliberate with their decision-making.

“The secondary, when they’re all out there playing, is as good as we’ve ever had,” Piron said. “We have a very, very good, athletic linebacking corps led by an unbelievable kid in Anthony Thielk (61/2 sacks), and Donovan Kilker and Jake Hlava fly all over the field. … That’s a complete defense. There’s not a lot of holes in our defense.”

Piron said the Bulldogs’ 511/2 sacks-and-counting might be a program record.

“If not, it’s awfully close,” Piron said. “I will tell you, [defensive coordinator Matt Holm] has this defense playing at a very, very high level.”

Bulldogs sack leaders

(Batavia has 51 1/2 sacks as a team)

Josh Leonhard, 11

Noah Frazier, 10

Anthony Thielk, 6 1/2

James Millette, 5 1/2

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