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Batavia stays calm, keeps believing
By John Lemon | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/29/20 1:35 AM

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Batavia's student section did their rendition of that ever-growing chant, the one that's probably replaced "o-ver-rated" as the one I hear most at sporting events these days, Friday night during the Bulldogs' Class 6A playoff opener with Notre Dame.

You know the one. You hear it all the time now. "I believe that we will win, I believe that we will win!" Somewhat catchy I'd say.

But what I found telling Friday was not the chant itself but when the students did it.

It didn't come before the game. Perhaps they thought being 9-0 going up against 5-4 Notre Dame a win was a given. You didn't have to believe they would win, everyone knew Batavia was going to win and let's start looking forward to the matchups down the playoff road.

And I didn't hear it when they were down 21-0 in the second quarter or 28-7 at halftime.

But after a couple Noel Gaspari touchdown passes in the third quarter and their team within 28-21, then the chant went up. And with all the momentum on Batavia's side, the Bulldogs did indeed win, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 35-28 victory nobody at Bulldog Stadium will soon forget.

A comeback for the ages, indeed.

But you've got to give credit to those who believed before that third-quarter rally started.

Because if they didn't believe then, even when it looked like Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana, er, I mean Notre Dame quarterback Nick Pieruccini, was ever going to throw an incomplete pass or a bounce was ever going to go the Bulldogs way at the depths of that 21-point deficit, there wouldn't have been a second-half comeback to cheer.

People who believed like assistant coach Mike Gaspari who had a simple message at halftime.

"We were all upset but nobody was screaming," Batavia senior two-way standout Alec Lyons said. "They (the coaches) all talked to us. 'We believe in you.' Coach Gaspari has been saying that since Day One. That is his four favorite words, 'I believe in you.' Even when we are down like that. Slowly things started going our way."

That kind of faith is impressive especially when nothing seemed to be going Batavia's way. The jam-packed Batavia stands were silent in the first half.

"I tell you, I was heartbroken," Lyons said. "That is what I was.

"We all saw it slipping away. Luckily our big players came through with big plays."

"I think we were all a little nervous at the beginning," another two-way player Anthony Thielk said "I think at halftime we straightened things out and knew we were going to come back."

One of Batavia's captains Cole Gardner described the halftime scene.

"It was pretty calm. 'All right guys, we haven't been down like this before but we believe in each other.' We talked about the things we've been saying all year and what we need to do differently. The coaches talked some, the captains talked some. It was kind of a group change and we got it done."

Much of that 28-7 halftime deficit was their own fault. Penalties have been about the only thing that hurt Batavia in the regular season and there were a couple more critical ones early. And for an underdog to have a chance in a matchup like this it usually takes turnovers, and the Bulldogs fumbled twice that turned into 14 points.

But just as big of a part of the 28-7 score was the opponent, one whose 5-4 record came against an East Suburban Catholic schedule and the likes of Joliet Catholic and Marist.

"The seedings mean nothing, the whole thing is a fallacy," Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. "The setup is all random. Who you play in the regular season is a whole different deal and those guys play an incredibly tough schedule against really good football teams."

Notre Dame took its 28-7 lead mostly through the air and Dons coach Mike Hennessey tried to stay aggressive in the third quarter.

"We didn't feel we had the game won," Hennessey said. "We needed to keep possession of the football and not keep putting our defense out there the entire second half. Give credit to them (Batavia) for what they came out and did the second half."

What they did in the second half started at halftime, it started when everything in the world was going wrong in the first half and the coaches and players kept believing. Kept believing in all the work they have done to get to this point, all the talent on their sideline.

"I told them the story tomorrow in the papers could be the unbelievable comeback Batavia made or 9-0 team falls in the first round to 5-4," Piron said. "I don't think they liked the sounds of that."

Not nearly as much as the sound of "I believe that we have won."