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Fenwick coach, former NIU lineman Matt Battaglia head home for title game

RIVER GROVE – After his Fenwick football team beat Sycamore on Saturday, center Jimmy Liston was so pumped for the win that he was ready to make it a doubleheader.

“It feels exhilarating,” Liston said. “We’ve come this far to not back down yet. I can’t wait for next week already. I’m ready to play a whole other game right now.”

The Friars qualified for the state championship for the first time and will face Kankakee for the Class 5A title at 10 a.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

For coach Matt Battaglia, it’s a return to a place he’s more than familiar with. Battaglia was an offensive lineman with the Huskies from 2010-13.

“Going back home. I know that place in and out,” Battaglia said. “It will be fun to be back there.”

After his team’s 17-6 win over Sycamore in a 5A semifinal, Battaglia said his team will handle the big stage at Huskie Stadium well.

“They’ve done a great job of keeping things in perspective all year,” Battaglia said. “I think it’s going to be, once we hit that field – it could be field of dreams, it could be Huskie Stadium, Memorial Stadium, Soldier Field it doesn’t matter once we get between the white lines with these guys.”

Battaglia said the team is trying to avoid the just-happy-to-be-here attitude, but that doesn’t mean players such as quarterback Kaden Cobb, who threw for 254 yards in the win against the Spartans, can’t appreciate what the Friars have accomplished.

“It’s amazing. It’s the first time ever in Fenwick history we’ve made it to the state championship,” Cobb said. “Obviously we’re not done. But it’s just amazing.”

Cobb also said he’s happy to make the run to the title game with this group of players. Although the Spartans were able to hold running back Danny Kent to 66 yards on 22 carries, Cobb had deep passes to Max Reese and Bryan Hunt.

Both Reese and Hunt had six catches in the win.

“I’m just glad to play the quarterback role for this team,” Cobb said. “I’ve got the guys around me, they make plays. They make me look good sometimes. But it’s amazing. I’m glad to bring this to Fenwick, but we’re not done yet.”

The Friars are in the final after playing three straight games decided by 11 points or less. They opened with a 50-14 win over Kaneland, then beat Boylan Catholic, 24-14. Before the win against the Spartans, they also beat Nazareth Academy by 11, 28-17.

Kankakee, by comparison, has played only one one-score game, beating Marion, 44-38, in the quarterfinals. The Kays topped Morton, 41-14, in the other semifinal.

Battaglia said the team is not done yet, playing a Kankakee team also searching for its first state title.

“I know a lot of alumni were really invested in this game, but at this point we don’t care about just going to a state championship,” Battaglia said. “We have to keep our focus on not just we’re happy to be there. We have a goal that we marked before the season began, dating back to last spring, of winning a state title. So that’s going to be our focus.”

Liston is committed to play his college ball at Purdue. He said the team has one more task to complete this year.

“Fenwick has given me everything I’ve ever asked for, and it’s great to give them back this,” Liston said. “It’ll be even sweeter to give them back another win next week.”