BATAVIA – On a gut-check drive with minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Batavia’s offensive line answered the call.
At that point, the Bulldogs already had two touchdowns called back because of offensive penalties. And when Wheaton North running back Walker Owens scored with 5:30 left in the fourth, the Falcons were within two points.
Five consecutive Batavia rushes later, senior running back Charlie Whelpley bulldozed into the end zone for the clinching score with 1:28 left. Wheaton North drove down the field for a 26-yard field goal by Luke Bellini with under 10 seconds left, but the ensuing onside kick attempt was recovered by Batavia’s Kyle Porter to preserve a 23-17 Bulldogs win Sept. 22 in Batavia.
“My thing is always [breathe] in and out [to stay calm],” Batavia senior center Jack David said. “Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Calm yourself down, get the heart rate down and focus on your assignment.”
David, tackles Jonathan Brown and Nick Ruiz and guards Frank Porcaro and Brendan Conklin have been the payday makers up front in their second season starting together for the Bulldogs, who ran for 171 yards with Ryan Boe, Whelpley and Zach Granberg.
“If you know what you have to do, you can do it,” David said. “If you’re thinking about what everybody else is doing, you’re not going to know what you’re doing.”
Batavia (4-1, 3-0 DuKane Conference) opened the game with an 11-play drive that concluded with Boe’s 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead. After trading punts, Batavia appeared to take a two-touchdown lead on a 12-yard completion to Luke Alwin, but the score was nullified because of a holding penalty with 5:17 left in the first half. A fourth-down attempt was thwarted by the Falcons for a turnover on downs.
Wheaton North answered with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Max Howser to Rich Schilling to tie it with 1:13 left before halftime.
Out of the break, the Falcons (3-2, 2-1) drove deep into Batavia territory, but a timely sack by Bulldogs linebacker Jacob Feller at the 10-yard line forced a Howser fumble. Bulldogs defensive tackle Xavier Blanquel recovered the ball. Batavia’s offense took over and put together a drive that ended with Pat McNamara connecting on a field goal for a 10-7 Bulldogs lead with 3:38 left in the third quarter.
Batavia linebacker RJ Bohr blocked a Bellini field-goal attempt with 11:17 left in the fourth quarter.
Batavia running back Nathan Whitwell cashed in with a 10-yard score, but the extra-point attempt was blocked and the Bulldogs had a 16-7 lead.
The Falcons quickly flipped the field with a 56-yard completion to Matt Kuczaj to set the stage for Owens’ score that cut the deficit to 16-14, but Batavia responded when it mattered most.
“We had two touchdowns called back that should’ve been scores. We felt like we left points on the board,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “I’m not saying they weren’t calls. I don’t know. It was like so frustrating and to finally break through. ... I felt like there were times when, again, offensively, we kind of dominated a little bit. [Wheaton North is] so well-coached. Offensively, the things that they do, the stuff they get after you, it’s like, man, they never let up. They’ve got some really special players. They always do, but again, that’s how that’s supposed to feel. I would think both of us are state-caliber teams. ... This is a playoff feeling, right? Really good atmosphere. Really special job by our kids.”
Boe was 15 of 25 for 228 yards. Alwin had seven catches for 107 yards.
Howser finished 16 of 25 for 241 yards and a touchdown. Schilling had nine catches for 110 yards.
“There were chances for us to do some good things,” Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said. “Some of it is [Batavia] is a quality team and they make things difficult on you, but we get down in the red zone, we’ve got to get points on the board. So if we kick field goals, we kick field goals, but we’ve got to get points. We can’t come out empty down there.
“We have some kids that can make plays for us. Howser’s doing a great job leading us. I thought our O-line stood up tonight and did a pretty good job against their front. It’s disappointing to walk off with a defeat, but I’m proud of the kids. I said there’s really nobody we shouldn’t be able to play with. I think we can learn from this and clean some things up and, hopefully, play a better game [this] week.”