Daily Herald
Batavia knows how to stuff the run
By Dave Oberhelman | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 11/10/2011 11:56 PM

When it comes to stopping the run, Batavia has been all over it.

That's the challenge yet again for the top-seeded Bulldogs (11-0) as they visit No. 5 Lakes in Saturday's 5 p.m. Class 6A quarterfinal football game.

Batavia's 4-3 defense has allowed just 2.9 yards per carry and only 9 rushing plays of 14 yards or more. Some of those have occurred against Batavia's second and third teams in the latter stages of blowouts.

"We've swarmed to the ball all year," said Batavia coach Dennis Piron, whose squad is playing in its first quarterfinal contest since the 2006 6A runner-up season.

"I've been very proud of how that defense has played. (Defensive coordinator Matt) Holm has done a very good job of getting the guys not to loaf, to go to the whistle, and not stopping."

Lakes, the North Suburban Prairie Conference tri-champion with Antioch and Grant who the Eagles eliminated last week 38-7 offers a standout running back in 210-pound, big-thighed junior Direll Clark. He's led Lakes to its first quarterfinal appearance in the Lake Villa program's brief seven-year history.

Clark bashed through Grant for 211 yards and touchdown runs of 85, 19 and 8 yards. The week before Clark carried the ball 40 times for 280 yards as Lakes (9-2) edged Rolling Meadows 38-35. On the season Clark has carried the ball 190 times for 1,568 yards and 19 touchdowns.

"They have a pretty diverse offense in terms of formations and things," Piron said. "I think the issue for us is to stop the running back."

That was the mantra in the Bulldogs' second-round game against Lake Forest, and Batavia performed in stellar fashion. In Lake Forest's first-round win over Fenton, Owen Williams ran for 126 yards. Batavia stuffed him for 3 yards on 14 carries.

Linebacker Sean Oroni bulked up his total to a team-high 116 tackles and Austin Lewis, Alec Lyons and Anthony Thielk all matched Oroni's 2 tackles for loss as Batavia limited Lake Forest's ground game to minus-15 yards on 17 carries.

"I think part of it has been how hard they've been flying to the football. That's been tremendous," Piron said.

Clark follows an offensive line that averages 249 pounds, while senior Ashton Norwood has added 313 yards rushing. Eagles quarterback Chris Hoffman has run for 288 yards and passed 103 times for 754 yards.

Hoffman's main target is 6-foot-3 junior receiver Justin Bergeron with 27 catches for 469 yards and 7 touchdowns, but last week Hoffman hit Andrew Spencer for a 40-yard touchdown pass as Lakes built a 31-7 third quarter lead. Eagles kicker Tanner Blain matches Batavia's Brandon Clabough with 7 field goals, and also leads Lake County teams in punting with a 39.6-yard average.

Piron said he'd like to force Lakes into a one-dimensional offense. That means force Hoffman to the air against a Bulldogs pass defense that allows just 4.9 yards per throw and features Jon Gray and Michael Moffatt each with 5 of the team's 18 interceptions. Lyons leads Batavia in sacks with 9 while Marquise Jenkins and Cole Gardner have hurried the quarterback 30 and 24 times, respectively.

A great start was not in the offing in the Bulldogs' 31-17 second-round win over Lake Forest. The wind-affected game closed on Batavia's 21 unanswered points, as the Bulldogs used special teams to gain field position and quarterback Noel Gaspari used the pass to set up fourth-quarter touchdown runs by Lyons and Thielk.

A week after outscoring Notre Dame 28-0 in the second half to reach the Lake Forest game, Batavia again required a rally. Piron didn't seem concerned.

"If there's a troubling matter for me as a coach," he said, "I think we've had the tendency to allow drives to continue that maybe shouldn't have, or getting first downs or putting the ball in the end zone when I thought maybe we should have."

Fix that stuff Saturday and the Bulldogs would achieve a landmark: a first state semifinal in Batavia, hosting either Nazareth or Prairie Ridge.

"That's a dream come true if we could make that happen," Piron said.