BATAVIA – Prairie Ridge safety Sean Folliard could see he was not going to beat the pass from Batavia quarterback Noel Gaspari to tight end Evan Zeddies, so he did the next-best thing.
“Go all out,” Folliard said. “If you think they got the ball, you hit the body and take it away.”
Folliard’s bang-bang play almost was as tough to figure out at Prairie Ridge’s option offense. Batavia thought Zeddies had scored, but in a two-second flurry, Folliard laid a vicious hit on Zeddies and stripped the ball in one motion. Folliard popped up off the ground with the ball in his hands and the official motioned it was Prairie Ridge’s ball.
Prairie Ridge’s defense ran to the sideline celebrating. All that was left for the offense was 3:18 to kill, which it did, punching the Wolves’ ticket to the IHSA Class 6A state championship game with a 33-22 victory Saturday at Bulldog Stadium. After semifinal losses each of the past two seasons, Prairie Ridge, the only Fox Valley Conference team to play in three consecutive semis, finished the job this time.
“What a phenomenal play,” Wolves coach Chris Schremp said. “[Sean] is so athletic. That’s one of the plays of the year for us.”
Prairie Ridge (12-1) meets Peoria Richwoods (10-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium. Richwoods defeated Lemont, 34-31, in double overtime in Saturday’s other semifinal.
“Everybody knew coming into this game it was going to be a dogfight from the start to the finish,” said Wolves linebacker Josh Hrudicka, who had one fumble recovery and returned a second-half interception for a touchdown. “We knew what we had to get done today, everybody was ready and it showed.”
Folliard jarred a pass loose from Batavia tight end Cole Gardner to stop Batavia’s first drive of the second half, and the Wolves’ offense went to work with Jordan Getzelman capping an 82-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown run. Hrudicka intercepted a tipped pass on the Bulldogs’ next possession and returned it 37 yards.
Wolves fullback Connor Greenwald, who carried 26 times for 227 yards, scored on a 20-yard run to start the fourth quarter. Prairie Ridge knew its lead was far from safe with Gaspari (26 of 49, 375 yards) running the Bulldogs’ offense.
Sure enough, Batavia (12-1) scored in 48 seconds and added a two-point conversion. Prairie Ridge, moving into a stiff wind in the fourth quarter, played it conservatively on offense and let the defense do its job. Batavia finished with 433 total yards, but the Wolves kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone.
“[Prairie Ridge] is a very good high school football team, as good as there might be in Illinois,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “That’s a great victory for them today. They beat a very good high school football team. Ridge had to play their best game to beat us.”
The Bulldogs were frustrated by a potential touchdown pass from Gaspari to Jon Gray midway through the fourth quarter, which was called back for a block-in-the-back penalty. Batavia got the ball on the 13, but Prairie Ridge’s defense held.
Piron and Zeddies both thought Folliard’s interception should have been a Bulldogs’ score. (Check out the play on McHenryCountySports.com's Fastest Four Minutes here http://mchenrycountysports.com/articles/2011/11/19/85324969/index.xml).
“It seemed to me he had two hands on the ball, his feet are on the ground and he’s in the end zone,” Piron said. “At what point is that not a touchdown. You tell me. I don’t know. I can’t believe that’s not a touchdown. I don’t care what happens after that moment. The ball crossed the plane, the receiver has it, it’s a touchdown.”
Zeddies said he felt he hit the ground before Folliard had possession.
“I know I had the ball and my feet in,” said Zeddies, who took a few moments to recover after the hard hit. “I guess [the official] saw something else.”