As first-round football playoff matchups go, they don’t get much better than this.
Two defending state champions square off Saturday when Mount Carmel travels to Batavia to take on the Bulldogs in an IHSA Class 7A bout at 1:30 p.m. The 14th-seeded Caravan (5-4) won Class 7A last year while the third-seeded Bulldogs (8-1) won 6A.
“We were so excited,” Batavia right tackle Jack Breshears said of his team’s reaction when the pairings were announced. “We are looking to play the topnotch opponents in 7A.
“Plus, it’s really cool to play an opponent with such rich history as Mount Carmel. I think the matchup could not be better for the first round, and it’s the Comcast game of the week. It will be a good one, I promise you that.”
Breshears, a senior who is committed to a Division I scholarship at Florida Atlantic, is one of three returning starters on a Bulldog offensive line that picked up where last year’s group left off.
Batavia coach Dennis Piron is well aware of Mount Carmel’s record under legendary coach Frank Lenti, whose team has won 11 state titles and is making its 29th straight playoff appearance.
“They lost a ton to graduation last year and it just took them a while to get their feet,” he said of the Caravan, who scrambled from a 2-4 start to make the postseason field.
He notes with pride, though, that the veteran staff at Batavia has built a strong program, too.
Players like Breshears give him confidence the Bulldogs can match up with top tier programs like Mount Carmel.
“One of the things I feel best about and that I feel is the strongest part of the team is that we’re built around our offensive and defensive lines,” he said. “You need the big bulls to challenge that big group of top-level teams.
“We’ve done well in some of those linemen competitions the past two summers, going against very strong programs. Our kids take great pride in the work they’ve put in in the weight room. We feel we match up strength-wise, with anyone.”
The 6-5, 285 Breshears played half of last season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. He had surgery in the offseason and came back strong.
“My shoulder is perfect now,” he said. “We made sure in the offseason that I strengthened it and the muscles around it to ensure it would be better than before.”
He’s joined by returnees Zach Tate (6-2, 245) at right guard, Mitch Krusz (6-1, 270) at center, Patrick Gamble (5-10, 250) at left tackle and newcomer Brandon Parker (5-11, 270) at left guard.
Krusz, who missed the last half of last season with a knee injury, has also been spelled by Zach Sims and Giovanni Garcia, as offensive line coach P.J. White rotates several players in and out to help the team develop depth.
“It’s really nice to have four returning,” Breshears said. “We have had some guys step up this season. Sims and Parker have really worked hard in the offseason to fill the fifth spot.
“We try to do pass rush against our (No. 1) defense at least twice a week and we try to do one-on-ones once a week to keep us fresh and for us to go up against game speed during the week, which is helpful. Our defensive starters are having a strong year.”