HUNTLEY – Even the eventual state champion will have a difficult time rivaling the Batavia football team’s postseason when it comes to creating lasting memories.
The Bulldogs just wish it would have lasted more than one incredible night.In a remarkable game that featured blistering offense and futile defense on both sides, the Bulldogs were eliminated by Huntley, 70-63, on Friday night in the first round of the IHSA Class 6A playoffs.
The teams combined for 1,327 total yards, setting IHSA records for total combined offense and points scored in a playoff game.
“They were studs,” Batavia senior Alex Berg said of Huntley. “We missed tackles, but we couldn’t get them down.”
The Bulldogs’ offense offered the defense chance after chance for redemption. Batavia trailed virtually the entire game until the Bulldogs (6-4) tied the score, 63-63, on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Coffey to Tyler Lindquist with 3:22 to go in the game.
But the Red Raiders’ ground game delivered one final blow to an overmatched Batavia defense.
After a Huntley penalty on the kickoff return, the Red Raiders (9-1) took possession at their own 14, but needed only eight plays – a long drive by Friday’s standards – before Illinois State-bound senior Jordan Neukirch rumbled in from 13 yards out for the winning touchdown with 40 seconds to go.
On the night, Neukirch rushed for 272 yards on 23 carries. Teammate Brett Kleckner rushed 12 times for 246 yards and, as a team, the Red Raiders shredded the Bulldogs for 712 rushing yards, also an IHSA playoff record.
Batavia resorted to trying onside kicks in the second half because the defense was so ineffective, but Bulldogs coach Mike Gaspari refused to take a shot at his defense.
“If you’re going to be critical of the defense, you’d have to be critical of theirs, as well,” Gaspari said.
Somehow, the Bulldogs’ offense managed to keep pace.
Quarterback Jordan Coffey turned in a superb final night of his career, going 24-for-35 for 376 yards and four touchdown passes. He did it mostly without top receiver Erich Zeddies, who injured his knee while hauling in a dazzling, one-handed grab along the sideline late in the first quarter, and did not return.
In less than a quarter of work, Zeddies, a senior, caught four balls for 69 yards.
“My heart is broken for Erich,” Gaspari said. “If we had one MVP, he’d have to be it, but I think we have more on this team.”
Several Bulldogs flourished in Zeddies’ absence, including Bai Kabba (169 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown) and Lindquist (10 catches, 144 receiving yards, two TDs).
Zeddies also is Batavia’s place kicker, but in his absence, sophomore Mike Clopton drilled all nine point-after attempts.
“He showed up tonight expecting to enjoy the view from the sidelines,” Gaspari said. “To do what he did showed a tremendous amount of character on his part.”
Gaspari was hopeful Huntley – which uses more two-way skill players than Batavia – would wear down late in the game, but the Red Raiders’ offense continued to pop the Bulldogs with big-gainers after taking a 35-21 halftime lead.
“A credit to the incredible character of that team to be able to get through a game like that,” Gaspari said.
Huntley coach Steve Graves acknowledged that, by game’s end, the ball went to whichever back looked like he still had some life.
“Some of the running backs were gassed at the end of the game,” Graves said. “Some of the play calls were about who we thought was freshest at the end.”
After Huntley’s final score, the Bulldogs took possession at their own 35-yard line with 40 seconds to go but were unable to work one last miracle.