Gaspari, Gardner lead Batavia past Lakes

LAKE VILLA, Ill. -- The Lakes Eagles played in their first quarterfinal game in school history on Saturday.

Their lack of experience showed.

The Batavia Bulldogs came into Lake Villa and pitched a shut out, winning Saturday's 6A playoff quarterfinal 42-0.


“We were talking goose egg all night,” senior defensive end/tight end Cole Gardner said. “We’ve let a couple goose eggs go this year but tonight we did not want that to happen. We came out and shut down the run, which is what we really needed to do.”

This was Batavia’s third shutout of the year. The Bulldogs have been a completely different squad since the second half of their opening-round game against Niles Notre Dame. Since then, the defense has only given up 17 points in five halves of football.

“We were all pretty shell-shocked going into the second half (of the Niles Notre Dame game),” quarterback Noel Gaspari said. “It feels good to kind of stomp on a team instead of having to come back from being down.”

The Bulldogs took control of the game early when they blocked an Eagles’ punt into the end zone, which was recovered by Austin Lewis for a touchdown.

The Eagles didn’t do themselves any favors on the next two drives, both ending in fumbles in their own territory.

While the Bulldogs failed to capitalize on the first fumble, the following possession concluded with fullback Alec Lyons punching it in from 4 yards out to make it 14-0.

Lakes followed up with a three-and-out and a short punt put the Bulldogs back into Eagle territory where Gaspari found Gardner for the first of two TDs between the two seniors.

Gaspari and his 6-foot-6, 250-pound weapon have been close since they were young and that has helped the Bulldog offense tremendously.

“Our connection is unbelievable,” said Gardner, who had two catches for 20 yards and two scores. “We’ve been playing sports since we were five together. We hang out all the time. There are multiple times where I just say ‘Hey, I’m going out on a seam here’ and he’s ready for it. We just see things and we play together.”

“They play like it’s backyard football,” head coach Dennis Piron said. “They played flag football back when they were very young in the Batavia community. They’re best friends.”

Batavia, which is undefeated so far this year, has not been this deep into the playoffs since their state title appearance in 2006. The past two seasons have not been good the Bulldogs as they have recorded 2-7 and 5-5 records.

“A lot of these kids hadn’t even won a playoff game yet before this year,” Piron said. “But we have smart boys and once they figure it out, things kind of go our way.

The Bulldogs will play at home next weekend against Prarie Ridge and Piron has said that he’s already been scouting Wolves. Six times.

“Prarie Ridge has been a personal project of ours for a long time,” Piron said. “We believed if we had ever gotten this far it would be a team we would play. I’ve got a lot of coaches who would be willing to do those sorts of things for our program. They are good, hard-working guys who really care about Batavia Bulldogs football.”

Player of the game: When Bulldogs QB Noel Gaspari faced pressure, he was able to bounce throughout the pocket and shake off would-be tacklers to keep plays alive. He finished with a solid day in the air, 17-24 for 243 yards with 3 TDs and 2 INTs.

Stat of the game: Forty-two was the highest point total the stingy Lakes defense has given up all year.

It was over when: Capping off an 11-play, 80-yard drive to start the second half, Gaspari threw a quick pass to Gardner, who overpowered his man one-on-one and trucked his way into the end zone for a 4 yard touchdown. This put the Bulldogs up 28-0 and they never looked back.

Quote of the night: “We’re kind of bullies. We got some mean guys. We have some lineman who takes things personally. Our power backs are really good blockers and our running backs like to be like offensive linemen. We’ve been able to mash people all year like that. We can mash you and we can throw it. When you have a team that can do that so well, it really poses a problem for defenses.” – head coach Dennis Piron about his offense.