There’s no shortage of theatrics off the field at Batavia, where puffs of red smoke greet the Bulldogs when they come onto the field.
And Batavia’s defense provided a little drama of its own with a heroic effort Friday night against Geneva and its Northern lllinois-bound quarterback, Daniel Santacaterina.
The No. 22 Bulldogs intercepted Santacaterina five times — including on three straight passes in the second half — and held on for a 26-20 Upstate Eight River win Friday night.
Josh Leonhard returned one of the interceptions 45 yards for a touchdown with 11:11 left in the fourth quarter and had a key sack on Geneva’s final possession. Nick Bernebei also had a pick-six, a 32-yarder in the first quarter, while Eddie Golden picked off Santacaterina twice and Joseph Gross had an interception.
Leonhard hadn’t even had an interception in his career, let alone one that he ran back.
“I was so excited,” he said. “I looked at the crowd, it was the loudest thing I ever heard in my life.”
Batavia (7-1, 6-0) opened a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on Bernebei’s return and Zach Garrett’s 5-yard touchdown run with 4.4 seconds left.
“It was crazy,” Leonhard said. “We were getting all the calls our way. [Then] it changed, we got all the penalties.”
The Bulldogs also had some turnovers of their own: two fumbles and an interception in the first half.
That helped No. 16 Geneva (7-1, 5-1) regroup, tying the score at 14 on Justin Taormina’s 5-yard TD run at 7:06 of the second quarter and Santacaterina’s 25-yard scoring pass to Jack Wassel at 4:47 of the second.
It stayed tied till a wild sequence early in the fourth quarter.
Garrett (13 carries, 71 yards) bulled across from a yard out on fourth down to make it 20-14 with 11:54 left in the game.
Leonhard’s TD return came 43 seconds later, but Taormina (18 carries, 97 yards) ran back the kickoff 85 yards for a score to make it 26-20.
Batavia’s defense made the lead stand up despite the best efforts of Santacaterina, who was 18-of-39 passing for 275 yards.
“We talked about keeping him in the pocket the whole week,” Leonhard said. “When he rolls out, he’s dangerous. He’s got Pace Temple and a couple other good receivers. We just wanted to keep him in the pocket and put pressure on him there.”
“They have a good team, they did what they needed to do,” Geneva coach Rob Wicinski said. “I knew they didn’t want us to have time down the field. We could have connected on some passes if we had a little bit of time.”
The interceptions — Santacaterina had six in his first seven games — were as much due to Batavia’s defense as anything, according to Wicinski.
“He put some bee-bees in there,” Wicinski said. “I thought he threw some nice passes.”