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State football success hard to come by for Tri-Cities public schools

Published: Friday, Nov. 29, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

History has shown how difficult it has been for Tri-Cities football teams to advance to the IHSA state football finals.

As Batavia prepares to face Richards at 1 p.m. Saturday in the 6A state final, the Bulldogs will look to make history by joining Kaneland as the only public Tri-Cities area school to win a state title.

The Knights won back-to-back titles under coach Joe Thorgesen in 1997 and 1998, going a perfect 14-0 both seasons. The only other public schools from the area to advance to a title game were Geneva (1975 and 2008) and Batavia (2006), and both came up short.

Area private schools have had a great deal more success, winning three titles in recent seasons.

St. Francis won in 5A in 2008 and Aurora Christian won 3A titles in 2011 and 2012. Marmion made the 6A state final in 2010 but fell to Rockford Boylan.

Here’s a look back at some of the top area teams of all-time through the remembrances of players and coaches:

Team: Aurora Christian

Years: 2008, 2011, 2012

Results: Lost to Bloomington Central Catholic, 37-28 (2008) in 4A. Beat Mt. Carmel, 34-7, in 3A (2011). Beat Tolony (Unity), 42-12, in Class 3A (2012).

Is it more difficult to get to a state championship game or to win one?

“The exhilarating game is the semifinal game,” Eagles coach Don Beebe said. “If you win that game, it’s like the AFC and NFC title game because you’re going to the Super Bowl. If you lose that game, it’s devastating because it’s a long season and you’ve come so close.”

What advice would you give Batavia coach Dennis Piron?

“I did reach out to him and wish him good luck,” Beebe said. “We graduated the same year together (1983) so we know each other from competing. I told him this is a different game and not from a talent or speed or strength standpoint, but from an emotional level. The emotions can get so high and so low so fast. Dennis can’t let the emotions get to the kids and if something bad happens, he has to tell them it’s a long game and keep on encouraging them and keep their spirits up.”

Beebe’s been on both the winning and losing sides both as a high school coach and as a professional player.

In the third quarter of Super Bowl XXVIII, Thurman Thomas was stripped of the ball and Dallas safety James Washington returned it for a game-tying touchdown as the Cowboys rallied for a 30-13 victory.

“When Leon Lett forced that fumble we got to the sideline and it felt like we were down 30 (points),” Beebe said. “The guys weren’t saying anything at all and we didn’t score again and got blown out.

In Super Bowl XXXIII, Green Bay trailed, 14-10, but scored17 unanswered points in the second quarter and never relinquished its lead against New England, winning 35-21.

“They got up on us but we still felt we were OK,” Beebe said. “The next thing you know we’re up 27-14 and it’s lights out, a positive attitude and all emotion.”

Team: St. Francis

Year: 2008

Result: Beat Metamora, 49-35, in 5A.

How much pressure did you feel going into that game?

“It wasn’t so much pressure as a little bit of nerves because we were such underdogs,” St. Francis senior Stan Bobowski (21 rushes, 125 yards, 3 TDs) said. “Once we started playing, the nerves were away. It’s definitely important to get off to a good start.”

Team: Geneva

Year: 2008

Result: Lost, 33-14, to East St. Louis in 7A.

What would you say to the Batavia players about Saturday?

“The thing I remember most is that you had to keep your head because the game can change in a few seconds,” senior defensive lineman Andrew Clausen said. “You’ve worked so hard to get here so listen to what the coaches have to say and if something gets you down, you just play your heart out. The thing I’ll never forget as a senior was that I knew it was my last game, so you play your hardest no matter what.”

Team: Batavia

Year: 2006

Result: Lost, 30-20, to Normal in 6A.

Was the road to the state championship more difficult this season or in 2006?

“There’s always  ahurdle to get there and this year was a little easier than 2006 because we didn’t have a St. Viator or Cary-Grove to get past,” former Batavia head coach and current offensive coordinator Mike Gaspari said. “It’s so tough and, of course, in 2006 we had Geneva in the semifinal. It almost felt like if you didn’t win that game you couldn’t come back to town. There was that much pressure against your archrival and a trip to Champaign on the line.”

Since Dennis Piron was on your coaching staff in 2006 and now you’re on his coaching staff in 2013, have you given him any tips about coaching in a state championship game?

“We haven’t talked about too much, other than logistics,” Gaspari said. “The nice thing is it’s the same locker room we used when we used to play DeKalb, so there’s familiarity, and the venue is closer in proximity for people who want to come watch the game from Batavia.”

Team: Kaneland

Years: 1997, 1998

Results: Beat Harrisburg, 31-7 in 3A (1997). Beat Nashville, 21-7 in 3A (1998).

Is it more difficult to get to a state championship game or to win one?

“Each game builds momentum for the team and I think some of our toughest games were quarterfinal games,” longtime former Kaneland coach Joe Thorgesen said. “Everyone had won two playoff games by then and was really feeling good about their football team.”

What does it take to go out there and win a title?

“The one thing we had in both ’97 and ’98 was great leaders. I remember we were running out in the second half to win a second state championship and I thought it would be such a drop-off for these kids not to win and of all the pressure they had. They went out and performed magnificently. You really have to arrive ready to play the game, be yourself and do what you’ve done all season to get there and let the chips fall.”

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