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Downers Grove North's Brandon Salter (24) carries the ball for a score against Batavia on Friday, October 26, 2012 | Sean King~For Sun-Times Media.
Sometimes that dream finish, as Cullin Rokos and his Batavia teammates could tell you, turns out to be a nightmare ending.
So it went Friday night for the top-seeded Bulldogs, who dropped a 38-26 decision to Downers Grove North in the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs.
“It’s pretty tough. We had a lot of expectations,” said Rokos, a senior linebacker and the team’s punter. “We knew we couldn’t take them lightly and we didn’t. We came out and played our hearts out but they’re a good team. I have a lot of respect for them.”
Too many turnovers and too much Brandon Salter early in the game put Batavia (9-1) in a hole that turned out to be too big to overcome.
They rallied from 18 down to within five (31-26) but could get no closer.
Vontae Diggs blocked Rokos’ punt on the game’s first possession, setting up the visitors on the Bulldogs 4, where sophomore QB David Edwards ran it in on his first play.
Batavia QB Micah Coffey (14-for-29 for 132 yards with two interceptions) connected with Zach Strittmatter on the first of two TD passes from 17 yards out to tie it.
But then Salter went to work. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior who would finish with a career-high 224 yards rushing on 19 carries, had scoring runs of 55 and 84 yards on the same dive play.
“That triple option is kind of hard to defend,” sighed Rokos. “You don’t know who has the ball and sometimes you catch someone guessing, I guess.”
“(Salter) had a heck of a game. He had a fantasy game,” said Diggs.
Rokos then came up with a big play he hoped would help turn the game around, grabbing a fumble out of mid-air and motoring 38 yards for a touchdown to pull the Bulldogs within 21-13.
“(LB) Michael Gates hit the running back as he got the handoff and it popped up and landed in my hands,” said Rokos. “I was in the right place at the right time. It’s been my dream since fifth grade to score a touchdown on this field. I accomplished that but it’ not how I wanted the game to end.”
The Trojans (6-4) answered with a 31-yard Gareth Jones field goal to lead 24-13 at the break. And with the Bulldogs loading the box, Edwards took advantage in the third quarter and connected with Richard Olekanma on a 43-yard play-action pass for a score to widen the margin.
Batavia pulled within 31-26 on a 2-yard touchdown run by Anthony Scaccia (13-153 rushing) and Coffey’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Strittmatter (5-81).
Downers North weathered two illegal procedure penalties and marched 65 yards on nine plays, eating up 5:11 on the clock and widened the lead on Edwards’ 14-yard scoring run.
Batavia drove to the Trojans 6, but Liam McKenna’s pass breakup on fourth down sealed the verdict.
“It was exactly the kind of game I thought it would be,” said Batavia coach Dennis Piron. “Our kids didn’t play flat. They came out and battled and fought. It was a hard-hitting high school football game.
“They made some plays on us because they’ve got some skill like we do. Our kids are disappointed because they felt there were some plays out there to be made that we didn’t make. I just feel bad for the seniors.”
Trojans coach John Wander wasn’t surprised at the Bulldogs comeback.
“That’s a 9-0 team. That’s why we’re ecstatic to win,” he said, noting the team’s West Suburban Silver schedule prepared them well. “We limped into the playoffs with three losses. Our kids didn’t quit. They believed in us and that was the result.”