BATAVIA – The emotional tenor inside the Batavia locker room, suffice to say, is quite pumped just days away from Champaign.
Batavia (10-3) will face Mount Carmel (13-0) for the Class 7A state title on Saturday at 4 p.m. It’s the fourth state title appearance in program history. Batavia already won titles in 2013 and 2017.
This time, however, has the added storyline dating back to how Batavia’s season ended last year.
The Bulldogs lost to the Caravan in heartbreaking fashion 16-14 in the second round of last year’s playoffs. Batavia was stung by two pass interference calls on Mount Carmel’s final drive, the first on an incomplete fourth-down pass and the second on what would have been the final play of the game.
Denny Furlong’s game-winning touchdown run off the right edge finished off a comeback that will forever be haunted by flags.
But that was then. This is now.
Batavia has long since turned the page.
“Very excited,” Batavia senior safety Drake Ostrander said from Batavia’s Media Night on Tuesday. “Just excited to show the whole state what we really have. A lot of [outside] doubt in us I see in all of the comments I see in other people doubting us. I really believe that we can show them who we really are and how great we can truly be.”
Caravan quarterback Blainey Dowling enters red-hot, already owning the program’s record for touchdown passes in a season. Dowling has 2,719 passing yards and 39 touchdowns entering Saturday.
Mount Carmel’s lowest point total of the season (20) came last week in their semifinal win over St. Rita. The Caravan has scored at least 40 points in eight games.
“I think we’re going to do the same thing we did last year. I think we played really well last year. We made some mistakes, [and] we’re going to correct on those,” Batavia senior linebacker and Iowa State commit Jack Sadowsky said. “We’re the better team and I think we know that.”
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’re going to play 100% [our brand of football],” Sadowsky continued.
Ostrander did not play in the playoff game against Mount Carmel last year, but initial impressions of Dowling are mindful of his arm talent.
“You’ve got to respect his arm,” Ostrander said. “He’s got a strong arm, so you just got to know what he has and just play your best against him.”
Bulldogs junior linebacker Ben Fiegel knows his defense is “battle-tested.”
“A lot of people are praying on our downfall, I feel like, if you look all over social media right now,” Fiegel said. “I think it just motivates us more and more. We get to decide its our last week and not a lot of people get to do that. We have earned the fact that we get to say: This is our last week and I think all of us are are pumped to play one last game together as a group.”
“This group is so special and I just love playing with my best friends out there, so it’s one more game, one more week,” Fiegel said.
What’s it going to take to beat Mount Carmel and hoist Batavia’s third championship trophy in program history?
“A lot of grit,” Ostrander said. “A lot of fight and just can’t give up. You know it’s going to be up and down [moments] during this game and we just got to really take advantage of each play we’re given. If they make a mistake, we got to jump on it.”
“Everything we’ve got,” Sadowsky said.
Ahrens anchoring Batavia defensive line
Perhaps stats don’t tell the whole story for Quinn Ahrens.
Zitkus, a Batavia senior, has 26 total tackles, two for-loss, and no sacks.
It doesn’t quite mean, however, the impact isn’t being felt on the field.
“I’m holding my gap and when I see [the linebackers] bounce, I know my guys got them,” Ahrens said. “I’m doing my job, like coach says to do: Do my own thing. I stay in my gap.”
Whichever gap that particular defensive play call demands, Ahrens stays true to it.
“If I’m called for a gap, I’m staying in that gap. I’m not really big into getting sacks. If I don’t get a sack, I don’t really care or tackle. I’m just trying to win the game.”