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Schwab: Recalling my top 10 most memorable high school football games

The Kaneland football team, including Ryan Gierke on the far left, cheers after the Knights scored the winning touchdown during their 2010 Class 5A second round game against Vernon Hills High School in Vernon Hills.
The Kaneland football team, including Ryan Gierke on the far left, cheers after the Knights scored the winning touchdown during their 2010 Class 5A second round game against Vernon Hills High School in Vernon Hills.

As enthused as we all are to see the 2014 football season take shape, the joy of victory and anguish of defeat are fleeting. The memories are what lasts.

In the middle of this year’s prep football preview section, you’ll find former area players from different schools and eras recalling the most powerful memories of their high school football careers. The theme extends to the team preview pages for each area school as a current player reflects on his favorite high school football memory to date, with an eye on making new ones beginning Friday. I couldn’t resist joining in. Here are 10 of the most memorable high school football games I’ve covered in person since starting at the Chronicle in 2006:

1. Batavia-Geneva state semifinal, 2006

Talk about being spoiled in Year 1 on the job.

I’ve never been to a Super Bowl or a BCS bowl game, but after witnessing this one, I’m not sure that I need to.

The atmosphere was absolutely crackling at Burgess Field, although the game itself was a trouncing in Batavia’s favor as the Bulldogs played their way in to the 6A state championship game against Normal by shutting down the Vikings, 28-0.

2. Batavia’s Class 6A state title victory, 2013

While the 2006 state final ended in disappointment for Batavia, there was nothing anticlimactic about what happened last November.

The Bulldogs delivered an all-around performance worthy of the state’s grandest stage, avenging their lone loss of the season in a 34-14 throttling of Richards at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

From a core coaching staff that stuck together for decades to classy leaders such as Micah Coffey, Anthony Scaccia and Michael Moffatt, it was a group that deserved every bit of the adulation – and legacy – that comes with a state championship.

3. Batavia-Huntley playoff shootout, 2008

From a pure entertainment value, it doesn’t get much better than this one, a 70-63 Huntley victory over Batavia in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.

In a lot of ways, the score speaks for itself. Both teams’ offenses shredded the defenses, series after series, quarter after quarter. I haven’t seen anything remotely like it, especially in a playoff game.

The defensive woes grew so extreme that Batavia resorted to second half onside kicks, figuring its chances of stopping the Red Raiders were so minimal. But Huntley struck for the winning TD with 40 seconds to go, and an A+ performance by Batavia’s offense wasn’t enough for it to advance.

4. Geneva-East St. Louis 7A state championship game, 2008

As if playing in a state championship game isn’t special enough, Geneva had the chance to do so against a program with the mystique of East St. Louis.

The Vikings had a heck of a team and acquitted themselves well, but they were a few elite athletes short against the Flyers, who pulled away late for a 33-14 victory.

5. Kaneland wins wild one over Morris, 2011

Kaneland visited Northern Illinois Big 12 East rival Morris in the final game of the regular season, and the atmosphere was befitting two teams trying to close out unbeaten regular seasons and win the conference.

The Knights led, 31-14, with 7:39 to play in the fourth quarter before the Redskins – employing the unconventional lonesome polecat formation late in the game – struck back quickly to come within 31-28. It took a Jake Razo interception in the closing seconds for the Knights to turn back Morris’ frantic comeback bid.

6. Batavia storms back to beat Niles

Notre Dame, 2011 playoffs

A halftime visit to the restroom resulted in overhearing a conversation between two teenagers, one seemingly a Batavia High student and the other a friend or family member who was in town visiting.

Needless to say, I wasn’t rolling tape, but the visitor said something to the effect of “I thought Batavia was supposed to be so good. They [stink].”

The undefeated Bulldogs weren’t so hot in the first half (down 28-7 at halftime) of the first-round matchup, but if the visitor stuck it out, he was singing a different tune by the time he headed to the parking lot. The Bulldogs rallied for a 35-28 win, as future Division I tight end Cole Gardner delivered a signature performance during the comeback. “He’s a monster,” coach Dennis Piron said admiringly.

7. Rochelle mucks up Geneva’s

streak, 2009

Among sportswriters’ gravest nightmares, an inability to decipher players’ jersey numbers while attempting to keep stats rates pretty high.

That was the anxiety-inducing predicament when Rochelle visited pre-turf Burgess Field in October 2009 as awful field conditions and Rochelle’s slippery Wing-T attack created mass confusion.

The final score was just as confounding: Rochelle 21, Geneva 14, as the Vikings’ 24-game regular season winning streak ended.

8. Batavia-Boylan freezing state semi, 2013

There are two types of high school football reporters: those who prefer being on the field and others who seek out the press box. I’m a field guy, but the 20-some degree weather in Rockford for the Class 6A state semifinal between Batavia and host Rockford Boylan last year sent me scurrying for the relative creature comforts of the box.

After all, feeling in one’s fingers is important when taking notes. Much to Batavia’s credit, the frigid air didn’t seem to dominate the Bulldogs’ thoughts as much as it did mine; Batavia’s focus remained airtight as the Bulldogs rocked the previously unbeaten Titans, 38-6.

9. Last-second call saves Kaneland

in 2011 playoffs

The Kaneland faithful watched in stunned disbelief as visiting St. Francis uncorked a 40-yard touchdown pass in the closing seconds of the teams’ 5A playoff game to swing the outcome in the Spartans’ favor.

Then came the flag. An illegal participation penalty wiped out Nick Donati’s touchdown pass, and Kaneland survived a ferocious St. Francis rally to advance.

Former Spartans coach Greg Purnell could have taken it a lot worse. “They said [Jeff Rutkowski] stepped out of bounds,” he said. “We were watching it right down the sideline and it looked like he got forced out of bounds. It’s a judgment call and you’ve got to go with it. The big thing is you can’t get down 31-7 at the half. That’s the whole thing.” 

10. North’s win blocked, 2011

They can’t all be Hollywood endings.

St. Charles North regained possession with the lead and less than a minute to go against Plainfield Central in Week 2 of the 2011 season.

But the North Stars were unable to run out the clock and, on the game’s final play, Plainfield Central blocked North’s punt, recovered it in the end zone and dealt the North Stars a mind-numbing, 26-21 defeat.

• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or

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