The buzz in the stands
If you can feel your toes, raise your hand. Didn’t think so.
With the temperature expected to hover in the 20s Saturday at Titan Stadium, no players will have encountered game-day cold like this all season, so hanging on to the pigskin while absorbing hits could loom large.
Rockford Boylan receiver Brock Stull vs. Batavia cornerback Michael Moffatt.
Stull, a 6-foot-3 Division-I basketball recruit (Wisconsin-Milwaukee), was Boylan’s quarterback last year and to start this season but transitioned to receiver, immediately becoming the go-to target for his successor at QB, junior Demry Croft.
Moffatt, meanwhile, has four interceptions and 15 pass break-ups on the year, and has done excellent work limiting opponents’ premier receivers.
“Very good challenge for [Moffatt],” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “[Stull] catches the ball, he goes and gets it. He’s very fast, athletic and he scores touchdowns. The quarterback’s 6-6 so he can whip it to him, so yeah, the two of them are playing nice pitch and catch out there.”
Kicking point-afters has been spotty for Batavia at times, although the Bulldogs are well equipped to make up for that by clicking on two-point conversions if need be. Punter Tucker Knox continues to be a great asset for the Bulldogs.
Rockford Boylan coach John Cacciatore said he thinks his Titans possess “a very solid” kicking game.
Best-case scenario for the Bulldogs
Batavia puts the game away before the final minutes.
Although the Bulldogs made a key defensive stand when they needed to in last week’s 19-14 win against Lake Forest, Rockford Boylan has cornered the market on clutch wins this season, dating back to Boylan overcoming a 21-point deficit in Week 2 to rally past Rockton Hononegah, 35-34.
The Titans also have overcome halftime deficits each of the past two weeks in tight playoff wins over Cary-Grove (17-10) and Prairie Ridge (21-17).
“They believe they’re going to win,” Piron said of the Titans. “Clearly as a program, they’ve done that for a long, long time now. Because they believe they’re going to win, they win, and they do it all the time. You’ve got to continue to press, you’ve got to be aggressive, you’ve got to go after them because they have no problem at all thinking ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter, we’ll finish them off in the end.’ ”
Quarterback Micah Coffey has piled up 2,043 passing yards and running back Anthony Scaccia has 1,541 rushing yards for a Bulldogs team that Piron said is playing to extend its time together more than for a shot at state championship glory next week at Huskie Stadium.
“The guys don’t break and say, ‘Win state!’ or anything like that, it’s one more week, let’s have one more week together,” Piron said. “It’s pretty special when you figure that out at a young age how precious this time is together. So it’s cool, very cool.”
Best-case scenario for the Titans
Boylan considers itself a run-first program, but you wouldn’t know it based on the past couple of weeks.
The Titans have had to be more aggressive than they’d like throwing the ball in difficult conditions because of sluggish starts. Winning is the bottom line, but Cacciatore said the Titans would prefer to control clock in the second half.
“We’ve run the ball fairly well between [running back Nick Pumilia] and [Croft], but the defenses the last few weeks have chosen to take that away, so we’ve had to capitalize by throwing the ball,” Cacciatore said. “That’s never the plan going in.”
Cacciatore is especially leery of being put in too many have-to-pass spots against Moffatt and the Bulldogs’ secondary.
“The secondary looks outstanding,” Cacciatore said of Batavia. “Probably the tallest and fastest secondary we’ve seen, and the linebackers don’t look like some of the linebackers around here. They look like they’re all built to run and run fast, and beat you up in space.”
Batavia’s vaunted offense finally cooled off a bit against Lake Forest, but Cacciatore knows tremendous efforts will be required from defensive leaders such as middle linebacker Zack Mathews (6-1, 230), brothers Graham and Quinn Smolirski in the secondary and defensive lineman Ian Riggs – all seniors – to keep the Bulldogs from a scoring pace that Boylan can’t match.
Jay Schwab’s prediction: Batavia 27, Boylan 20
Batavia has faced a better schedule, wields more playmakers on both sides of the ball and will start the more seasoned quarterback.
Still, earning a spot in the Class 6A state title game won’t be easy – nor should it be – in a road game against a proud and athletic team that consistently has found ways to dig itself out of trouble.