BATAVIA – Walking off the field after last year's Class 7A state semifinal loss to Nazareth, Batavia junior linebacker Matt Weerts knew his team could've played better.
And possibly won.
"We had too many mistakes during the game that could've been avoided," Weerts said.
The Bulldogs (9-2) aren't planning on that again this Saturday when they meet Nazareth (11-0) in the quarterfinals. The winner advances to play the winner of Wheaton Warrenville South or Rolling Meadows.
"We're out for blood," Batavia left tackle Jackson Heeringa said after Batavia's 48-0 win over Hononegah last week. "We're coming for them."
"In preparation for this year's game, we've really focused on the basics: Assignment and execution," Weerts said.
Those assignments, though, are perhaps Batavia's toughest since the Bulldogs played East St. Louis in Week 1. Nazareth, the reigning 7A champs, feature the top-rated quarterback in the state for the class of 2021 in J.J. McCarthy, a Michigan recruit.
But McCarthy is only part of makes Nazareth so explosive.
"They run a tight end-wing and then two wide outs," Batavia defensive back Sam Barus said. "Which, it brings up a lot of possibilities for run and pass at the same time, so you kind of have to watch that."
"Their passing game, it's one of the best in the state," Barus, a Bucknell recruit, continued. "They run levels and then the intertwining between the zones; there's a lot you got to watch out for. Guys sneaking out the backfield, delayed routes, it's a lot."
Sophomore wideout Tyler Morris, an electric 6-foot talent, is garnering interest from a host of Big 10 programs and more.
"He's definitely a kid that can ball," Barus said. "I've known him a little bit; I played a 7x7 team with him...from last year and watching the film, he's definitely progressed. He's definitely going to keep progressing. He's one of their key players."
Derrick Strongs Jr headlines a Roadrunners rushing attack that racked up 268 yards on 30 carries last week against Thorton. Strongs Jr. had 162 yards and four touchdowns on just 10 carries.
"They've built a really deep roster and they play well," said Weerts, who has 77 tackles for third on the team. "Their record shows it."
Batavia, however, excels at stopping the run.
In two playoff games, the Bulldogs held Thornwood and Hononegah to a combined 51 rushing yards. In 11 games, Batavia averages only 75 rushing yards allowed. The highest rushing total is likely no surprise – East St. Louis with 271; the next is St. Charles North with 147.
Offensively, Art Taylor headlines a Bulldogs rushing attack that averages 228 per game collectively. Taylor, a senior, has 1,259 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Taylor has eclipsed over 100 yards seven times.
Wideout Trey Urwiler features big-play potential, totaling 788 receiving yards and on 47 receptions. The next closest receiver – Taylor – has just 17 receptions for 95 yards.
"We are inspired to play better each game [and] improve through the season," Weerts said. "We have shown that in our past few games for sure."