CHAMPAIGN — One more week.
That was the mantra for senior running back Ryan Whitwell and his Batavia teammates.
Following an up-and-down regular season — at least, by the Bulldogs’ standards — one more week became a five-week run thanks to four straight playoff wins.
The mantra became “one last week” when Batavia reached the Class 7A state championship game against Mount Carmel at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium.
There, everyone knew the end would come, win or lose.
“It’s so hard as a head coach of any program because you have guys you’ve known for such a big portion of their lives,” an emotional Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “So, the sadness today isn’t the game.
“We played our (butts) off. It’s just sad we’re done. It was gonna be sad anyhow, but we’re sad we’re done.”
Five weeks of pure joy ended in bittersweet fashion Saturday night with a 44-20 loss to the undefeated Caravan, who rode a strong passing attack to the program’s 14th state title.
Batavia (10-4) finished its fourth trip to the state finals since 2006 with its second runner-up trophy. For Whitwell, the number on that trophy doesn’t really matter.
“We known each other forever, and I don’t know if Mount Carmel can say that,” Whitwell said. “Our memories aren’t made in the games. Our memories are made on that field early mornings, going by ourselves and just doing drills like me and Jansey did.
“That’s where memories are made.”
Things began inauspiciously Saturday, with senior receiver/defensive back Drew Gerke suffering a shoulder injury on the game’s second play. He had to leave before the end of the first quarter.
It went from bad to worse as the Bulldogs fell behind 28-0 and also lost junior offensive lineman Frankie Porcaro and senior defensive lineman Quinn Ahrens to injuries.
Senior quarterback Blainey Dowling took advantage for Mount Carmel (14-0), completing 25 of 40 passes for 262 yards and four touchdowns on the team’s first four possessions.
“When we saw it was 50 degrees and no wind,” Dowling said, “we knew we could sling the rock.”
Whitwell finally got Batavia on the board with a 3-yard TD run.
The outcome was never in doubt, but there was no quit in Batavia, which added a 12-yard TD pass to CJ Valente from junior quarterback Ryan Boe and a 15-yard TD run out of the Wildcat formation by Charlie Whelpley.
Whitwell joined senior linebackers Tyler Jansey and Jack Sadowsky and Boe in the postgame interview room. Whitwell ran for 58 yards and added 20 yards receiving on three catches.
Defensively, Whitwell had six tackles, second only to team leader Jansey’s nine. He recalled the 16-14 setback to the Caravan in 2021.
“Last year, after we lost to Mount Carmel in the second round, it’s not like the team vanished,” Whitwell said. “Every day, we were working out together with the older guys, and it’s going to be the same this year.”
Whitwell then pointed to Division I commits Jansey (Wisconsin) and Sadowsky (Iowa State).
“These two guys are going to graduate early,” Whitwell said. “But I’m going to be in the weight room every morning with my linemen because I enjoy it.”
It’s a work ethic that lends itself to continued, extended playoff runs for the program.
Piron said studying film from three weeks of playoff wins in inclement weather made it a challenge to prepare for Mount Carmel.
Sadowsky, though, felt Batavia’s defense — which has hung its hat on stopping the run this season — knew what was coming. The Bulldogs weren’t surprised by the Caravan’s 40 passes to 20 runs.
“We knew from the Loyola game they really didn’t run, so we kind of expected that coming in,” Sadowsky said. “I think it was frustrating for our D-line and linebackers.
“You do everything you can. It sucks to come up short.”