Illinois High School Football News

Karsten Libby’s 58-yard TD catch caps off Wheaton North’s stunning rally over Batavia

Wheaton North’s Karsten Libby (15) is tackled by Batavia’s Jacob Jansey during a game at Wheaton North on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022.

WHEATON – Karsten Libby, somehow, found himself all alone.

Trailing Batavia by five points late in the fourth quarter, Wheaton North tried the same play design that failed in the first half because of a penalty.

This time, it was dynamite up the left sideline from quarterback Max Howser.

Libby motored in for a stunning 58-yard go-ahead touchdown with 3:33 left in the game and Tyler O’Connor converted the two-point try as the Falcons rallied from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to get past Batavia 27-24 in a DuKane Conference opener Sept. 9 in Wheaton.

The Falcons (3-0, 1-0) came back from a 21-13 halftime deficit and limited the Batavia offense to just a field goal in the second half.

“We’ve had that play for a while,” Libby said. “We knew that their safeties would fly to the ball so we were trying to take advantage of that. We knew they wouldn’t really read the other side [of the field] so as they flew over, we just thought the coverage was going to be open.

“We tried the play earlier and it didn’t work. Got a penalty on that one. Tried it again and succeeded.”

After the teams traded punts throughout the third quarter, Batavia kicker Alec Crum connected on a 30-yard field goal to give Batavia a 24-13 lead with 11:05 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Falcons’ defense, evidently, said, “No more.”

On the Falcons’ ensuing offensive drive, O’Connor (60 rushing yards) cooked up a 54-yard scamper and then cashed in for a 1-yard rushing score with 8:58 left. The two-point try failed when Drew Gerke broke up the pass attempt and the Bulldogs held a 24-19 lead.

Batavia (1-2, 0-1) responded with a drive of its own, but the momentum was slammed shut when a fumble by running back Ryan Whitwell was recovered by Libby with 5:37 left.

“We had a chance to maybe ice it there. Gave them a shot in the arm and gave them a chance to get back and come back in,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “We really felt like we had momentum driving there and that’s crazy [the fumble] that happened. We’ll have to take a look and see what occurred. Maybe we missed a block. It felt like we had them on their heels.”

Four plays later, Libby (three catches, 84 yards) found the end zone.

“The whole second half, we were really pounding the rock,” Howser said. “We said at the half we’ve got to just work. Our special teams, everything, our O-line, that’s our biggest foundation of the team, so we just kept running and running and then it finally opened up.”

Batavia had one final shot, but a crucial holding call backed the Bulldogs up and they later faced fourth-and-27 on the possession. Falcons defensive back Walker Owens stonewalled a Ryan Boe pass attempt to force a turnover on downs and clinch the come-from-behind win.

Boe finished 7 of 10 for 113 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception. Whitwell had 141 rushing yards for Batavia.

In the first half, Batavia struck on its opening drive with a 19-yard Boe touchdown pass to Whitwell for an early 7-0 lead.

Wheaton North came right back with an 81-yard Howser touchdown to Matt Kuczaj. The extra-point attempt was missed to make it 7-6 Batavia with 4:02 left in the first quarter.

Boe was intercepted on the next drive, and Howser found Kuczaj for a 15-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a 13-7 lead.

Gerke intercepted Howser on the Falcons’ next drive, and Whitwell ran for a 56-yard score five plays later to make it 14-13 Batavia with 6:44 left in the half.

Three plays into the Falcons’ next drive, Howser was intercepted by Drake Ostrander for a 40-yard pick-six. The sudden momentum swing gave Batavia a 21-13 halftime lead.

“We felt like we had some penalties and some turnovers there in the first half that were, obviously, were our mistakes,” Falcons coach Joe Wardynski said. “We felt like if we could clean those things up and get back to running the football, we’d have a good chance to get back in the game in the second half. Our defense did a really good job. That’s a very good team over there. For us to come out with a win, I’m very proud of our boys.”

Luke Beedle had 88 rushing yards for Wheaton North.

Howser finished 6 of 12 for 183 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions for the Falcons.

“They battled. … They’re a really good football team again this year,” Piron said of Wheaton North. “Tough up front on both sides. Their skill guys are exceptional. Their quarterback and wildcat kid [O’Conner] are good and they’ve got a lot of really good football players.

“It’s a very, very tough league we play in. Everybody knows each other pretty well. … I like our team. I like where we’re at. There are a couple little things right now we don’t have 100% yet. It’d make a big, big difference if we did.”

Last season’s overtime loss to Batavia was in the back of the Falcons’ minds.

“Oh, yeah,” Libby said. “Definitely with the senior class, we knew what it felt like to lose to them and then we just couldn’t let that happen on our home turf.”