Call them the sackmen.
Batavia juniors Josh Leonhard and Noah Frazier didn’t start the season paired as bookends on the Bulldogs’ defensive line, but they have become a dual force for coordinator Matt Holm on a unit that has grown significantly better over the course of the season for the Class 6A state football finalist’s playoff run.
Batavia (12-1) gets a rematch with the only team the Bulldogs have lost to when they meet Richards (12-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at NIU’s Huskie Stadium in DeKalb for the title. It’s not the same defense Richards saw in its 31-26 nail-biter Week 2 win, Holm noted.
“Two things, there are some differences in personnel and we know the defense better,” he said. “The first couple of weeks we were very simplified. Our defense gets more complex as the season goes by. We’re able to do more.”
One of those changes was moving the 6-foot, 200-pound Frazier from outside linebacker to defensive end to complement the 6-1, 198 Leonhard at the other end. Since then, they’ve been pressuring quarterbacks at a record-setting pace, a fact that snuck up on them and their coaches.
“They let us know we were getting close at the beginning of the playoffs,” said Leonhard, who was slowed early in the year after breaking his ankle playing pickup basketball during the summer and then spraining the same ankle early in preseason camp.
Leonhard did not play in the Bulldogs’ season-opening 29-26 win over DuPage Valley Conference champ Glenbard North.
“It became a friendly competition,” Frazier confirmed after both were told the school record was 10.
The school standard for sacks was set by Kevin McFarland, a member of the only other Batavia finalist that finished second in 2006.
“I heard he was a beast,” Frazier said of the 6-4, 225 McFarland.
Frazier stood at 9.5 sacks and Leonhard at 9.0 at the time. In two games since, Leonhard has set a new mark with 11 and Frazier has 10, numbers they would like to add to as they pursue Richards quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers. They have 45 QB hurries between them.
“This year, we’ve got the speed off both ends and it’s not all just speed, these guys are very disciplined, they’re smart,” said Holm. “I don’t have to get on them about ducking inside on things and (warn them about) bootlegs. They’ve been able to force things up in the pocket and be effective.
“With these guys chasing sack records and creating their own, it’s a huge benefit for us getting quarterbacks to get rid of the ball quicker than they want.”
Very likely, it’s part of the reason Batavia has a 27-18 turnover ratio with 14 interceptions. In the past 10 weeks Holm’s first unit has given up just five touchdowns.
“The guys take great pride in that, they want to be recognized as a really good defense,” Holm said.
Frazier said the loss to Richards “showed us we’re not invincible, especially after the emotional win against Glenbard North. That (loss) kind of put us in our place, let us know that we had to work to get to where we want to be.
“We’ve kept building and building throughout the season. Your team always should be better later in the season because have more practice time.”