NAPERVILLE —St. Francis junior Tyler Duzansky truly got a taste of being in the right place at the right time, multiple times Saturday.
Twice in the first half of St. Francis’ 21-12 win over Genoa-Kingston in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs, Duzansky recovered fumbles. One came in the end zone on a Jake Stojan fourth down run that bounced into the end zone.
Later, when the Cogs had just picked up another third down stop in the second quarter and forced another punt, Duzansky struck again, recovering a muffed punt to set the Spartans up on the 26-yard line.
"You can't win without special teams," Duzansky said. "You need it."
Spartans quarterback Michael Baffa responded after the muffed punt by taking off and scrambling on a designed pass, slipping through the grasp of several Cogs for a score, putting the Spartans up 7-6.
“That was a huge turning point in the game to have that fumble recovery," St. Francis coach Bob McMillen said.
The Spartans held a 7-6 halftime lead. Both teams traded punts in what had already been a defensive slug fest.
“They just adjusted on what we were doing," Genoa-Kingston quarterback and safety Justin Peters said. "They started stacking the box and we couldn’t figure it out. We had plays where we did, but respect to them, they played a very good game.”
On St. Francis’ second drive of the second half, Baffa, who had struggled early, hit a streaking Jackson Gerard down the home sideline for a 51-yard touchdown and a 14-6 Spartans advantage.
Baffa's top target on the game was Jake Tangorra, who collected 106 receiving yards on seven carries.
The Cogs immediately answered back as Jake Stojan took back a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. An earlier blocked extra point created the need for then Cogs to go for two, trailing 14-12, but Will Franson’s run on the conversion try ended up a yard short.
The defense went into gear for both teams.The Spartans moving the ball inside the red zone late in the third quarter, and facing fourth and goal from the 3-yard line, the pressure provide by linebacker Logan Kribs caused Baffa to fumble the football, yielding possession to the trailing Cogs.
But offense was hard to come by for Genoa-Kingston.
“They played stout defense all night," Genoa-Kingston coach Chad Willmarth said. "I think offense played hard, we just struggled to get those three and four yards and move the chains at times.’
After Peters hit Stojan for a first down completion, the Spartans’ Vincenzo Rendina and Luke Meyer combined on a sack with Duzansky providing pressure to put the Cogs behind the chains.
“We tried to put immediate pressure on them up front,” Bob McMillen said. "I thought all five our guys up front, TJ, my son, Connor Schmidt, Michael Bumpus, Luke Meyer, Ben Radel, we walked him down and they put immediate pressure on them and tried to get those pullers out of the way so they could’t get to our linebackers.”
Cogs linebacker Connor Schwictenberg picked off a Baffa pass, adding a second G-K interception after a Peters defensive interception in the first quarter.
“They’re just a good physical football team," Willmarth said of the Spartans. "There was times that where we were a little outmanned with getting guys blocked and we were trying to do gap-sound stuff to help with that, do some down blocks, but again, they’re a good football team. I think our boys played super hard and left everything out on the football field."
Nothing came of the Cogs possession, and Baffa helped orchestrate a 66-yard drive that ended in a 1-yard quarterback sneak to push then Spartans ahead two scores and seal the deal.
Stojan later blazing up the middle on a counter look 38 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 Genoa-Kingston lead as St. Francis blocked the extra point.
“They ran the ball almost every time," Duzansky said. "That made the defense have to do their job. The defense carried the team.”
St. Francis held Genoa-Kingston to 2 yards of offense in the second half.
“We moved some guys around today," McMillen said. "We took Michael Bumpus out of our middle linebacker and put his hand down to try and give us a little more beef up front, especially the way they run the ball."
Peters had a chance to reflect afterward on what years of Cogs football meant to him.
“Through adversity, we battle," Peters said.This team, they mean so much and they mean so much to this community. It’s awesome watching us going out there and battle every Friday night and then on Saturday. It’s been a pleasure playing with them for this long.”
For Baffa, the next step is simple.
“There is no other goal. It’s state or bust.”
St. Francis will play No. 1 seed Coal City (10-0).