Upstate Eight River title on the line

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There were certainly some questions surrounding Batavia entering the season after it lost a number of skill position players to graduation from last year’s Class 6A semifinalist.

Consider the questions answered.

The Bulldogs have hardly skipped a beat in 2012 while maintaining their status as one of the top teams in Illinois. They enter Friday night’s Upstate Eight River showdown at St. Charles East in the Courrie-News Season Pass Spotlight game ranked No. 13 in the Sun-Times Super 25 and ranked No. 5 in the Class 7A state poll.

Batavia (7-0, 4-0) is also two wins away from its second straight undefeated regular season, but its more immediate focus is on securing a second consecutive UEC division title. Both accomplishments will be put to the test against the Saints (5-2, 4-0), who are tied with the Bulldogs atop the River standings going into a game where the winner will net at least a share of the league crown.

“It’s been a great season for our kids and they’ve played very well,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “Considering the number of kids we graduated last year, to come back and have such a strong year has been a real testament to the kids’ hard work and preparation.

“To have a game like this with so much on the line heading into the IHSA playoffs is really a great thing for our program.”

Consistency has been the calling card for Batavia, which has scored at least 30 in every game. Leading the charge is junior quarterback Micah Coffey, who has completed 99 of 159 passes for 1,260 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Coffey’s top target is senior Zach Strittmatter, who has 39 catches for 602 yards and 10 touchdowns. Junior Anthony Scaccia’s 840 rushing yards and seven touchdowns make him the team’s top threat on the ground.

“There are really not many weaknesses that we see,” St. Charles East coach Mike Fields said of Batavia. “We know we’re going to have to play our best game in order to compete with them.”

The Bulldogs claimed a hard-fought 35-20 win against St. Charles North last week. St. Charles East is coming off a 23-7 triumph at Streamwood that ran its winning streak to three.

The Saints have some up-and-coming talent of their own in junior quarterback Jimmy Mitchell, junior running back Erik Anderson and junior receiver Brannon Barry. Mitchell has thrown for 798 yards and eight touchdowns, with four of the scoring strikes going to Barry and three to Anderson.

But St. Charles East’s undisputed leader is senior Joe Hoscheit, who plays a leading role on both sides of the ball as linebacker and fullback. The Northwestern baseball recruit has a team-best eight touchdowns this season.

“When you first look at (St. Charles East) it looks pretty simple, but their schemes are very solid and they are very difficult to get a read on defensively,” Piron said. “I don’t know that we’ve worked any harder preparing for an opponent than we have worked on them.”

For St. Charles East, the challenge of going toe to toe with a state-ranked opponent is nothing new. The Saints lost to Class 6A powerhouse Cary-Grove 49-33 in their season opener and were shut out 34-0 by Class 8A juggernaut Neuqua Valley in Week 4.

“We’ve put ourselves in a good position,” said Fields, whose team can clinch its first trip to the playoffs since 2009 with a win. “We’ve had challenges throughout the season with Cary-Grove and Neuqua Valley, which both look like they’ll go undefeated this year.

“Batavia is right in line with those guys, so it’s another chance to see how we compare to these teams that are top five in the state in 6A, 7A and 8A. It kind of gives us a barometer for where we’re at as a program.”

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