O’Brien: Simeon falls to Batavia

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Simeon’s season started with so much hope and promise. The Wolverines’ goal was simple: win a state title.

Early losses to East St. Louis and Phillips cast some serious doubt on those hopes. The playoffs were a second chance, a clean slate at realizing all that potential. But things went bad right from the start Friday. Batavia scored on its first play at Gately Stadium, a 68-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Niemiec to Canaan Coffey.

“That was a momentum changer, that’s fantastic to start off the second round of the playoffs like that,” said Niemiec.

The Bulldogs rolled on from there, beating Simeon 35-14 in the second round of the Class 7A state playoffs.

Niemiec was terrific throughout, finishing 13-for-25 for 213 yards and three touchdowns.

“When the game is on the line and it is the playoffs, as a quarterback, you have to put the team on your back,” Niemiec said.

Speed was supposed to be one of the major advantages for Simeon, so it was surprising to watch Niemic continually outrun so many of the Wolverines’ defenders. He had 12 carries for 112 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown run.

“I wasn’t shocked,” Niemic said. “A couple of them said ‘man you are pretty fast.’”

Albanese, a 6-5 junior, caught three touchdowns of 32, 16 and 17 yards.

“Their linebackers flew out exactly how we thought they would and Niemic did a great job of selling it and the lineman all did a nice job blocking, I had the easy job,” Albanese said.”

Simeon’s receivers had a rough night, dropping several passes. The same issue plagued the Wolverines (8-3) in the East St. Louis and Phillips losses. Quarterback Dakota Turner Jr. finished 13-for-29 for 182 yards. He connected with Malik Holcomb for a 21-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.

Holcomb caught nine passes for 117 yards. Simeon trailed 21-0 at the half, but seemed to come out with more spirit in the third quarter. Holcomb’s touchdown briefly swung the momentum back to the Wolverines.

“We kind of came out flat,” Albanese said. “We almost expected to. Having such a good first half sometimes leads to that. We were on our heels a bit. But then our defense picked us up. (Brett) Bowman had a big interception.”

Zach Garrett was a workhorse back for Batavia (10-1), finishing with 19 carries for 69 yards. Simeon was never really to get its run game going. Foster Williams had nine carries for 70 yards.

Batavia, whose only loss was to Naperville Central, will face the winner of Saturday’s Cary-Grove vs. Benet game in the quarterfinals next weekend.

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