The Batavia Blue Devils rolled into Syracuse with the goal of shutting out Johnson City at the Carrier Dome to open the 2017 season. They rode out 37-0 victors.
"I felt really good about our defense," said lineman Anthony Ray. "Our defense is always good. We’ve just got kids who are physical and who can hit. One of our goals was to put up a giant goose egg, not let them have anything, have a shutout, so I think we completed that and that’s a good thing."
Batavia scored on the first play of its first possession when Ray Leach broke out for a 56-yard run to the goal line. The Mustangs then fumbled the kickoff giving Batavia good field position again. On Johnson's City's next possession, the snapper on a fourth-down punt attempt overshot his target resulting in a safety, extending Batavia's lead to 16-0.
That's how the day went for Johnson City. In the second half, when a Johnson City runner was about to cross the goal line, Taiyo Iburi-Bethel caught him from behind and punched the ball out of his hands, sending it out the back of the end zone for a touch back and giving Batavia the ball on the 20. After another long drive by the Mustangs, Chandler Baker snagged one of his two interceptions to deny Johnson City a score again.
"Coming in, we worked very hard in practice, just from the start, from the get-go," said Baker, who is also QB1. "We’ve been improving every single day, so coming in, I had confidence in my guys. I knew they were going to give 100 percent and that’s what they did and we came out with a win."
A win is a win, but Coach Branden Briggs, who expects his players to execute on every play, wasn't entirely satisfied.
"I'm hoping we’re not happy with a win here today, to be honest with you," Briggs said. "It’s good to get a win, but we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of mistakes to clean up. I’m confident we can do that, but the kids must buy into that and we’ve got to get much, much better."
Both Baker and Ray said they see room for improvement.
"We did good, but we can always improve," Baker said. "Me personally, I've got to limit the interceptions. I can’t have that. Next week we’re going to have Aquinas and they’re going to be a battle. We’ve just got to work really hard in practice and we’ll be fine."
Ray said there are some tasks the defense needs to address, such as improving player discipline in staying in position and closing up holes up the middle.
The team was eager to play on the big stage of the Carrier Dome, said receiver Ethan Biscaro.
"We were very excited and we were ready," Biscaro said. "We put in enough preparation and practice and we knew if we came out and played like we do at practice that we could beat anyone."
Leach rushed for 256 yards on 19 carries and scored once. He said he was proud of the effort of his teammates.
"Our team did good," Leach said. "We all did our 1/11th and that’s all we needed to do to get the W. We knew we had to come out hard to stop them. Our goal coming into this year was get a shutout at the Carrier Dome. We put our heart into it."
Briggs said Leach also knows there are things he needs to work on to improve.
"He needs to hit that hole a little bit harder," Briggs said. "He can’t dance as much. He understands that. We’ve had that conversation."
These kinds of details will be important when the Blue Devils open their home season Friday against Aquinas, which may be their most daunting opponent of the season.
"It’s going to be a whole different animal next week," Briggs said. "The kids will understand that when they watch the film. Aquinas put up a great game against one of the great teams in AA football in section V. It’s going to be a true test of our character and a true test of where we really are as a benchmark."
Asked if the team came out a little flat in the second half, Briggs said, not flat, but dehydrated.
"They found out they need to get in better shape," Briggs said. "The need to get into conditioning a little more, get serious, take care of their bodies more outside of football."
Baker was 9-13 passing for 193 yards and two TDs.
Taiyo Iburi-Bethel had four receptions for 96 yards and a TD. Eric Davis had a single catch, but it was a big one -- a 30-yard TD.
Antwan Odom had eight tackles.
Photos by Steve Ognibene.
Top photo: Ray Leach on a run to score in opening seconds of the first drive to give Batavia an 8-0 lead.
Chandler Baker scores early in the game.