BATAVIA, Ill. -- Prairie Ridge senior Connor Greenwald knew all too well the feeling of losing in a semifinal playoff game.
Greenwald had experienced that crushing disappointment as both a sophomore and junior when the Wolves were halted one step short of reaching the state championship in back-to-back seasons. It was a feeling that stayed with him throughout the last two years.
On Saturday, Greenwald was finally able to shake those memories for good and embrace a new feeling after Prairie Ridge defeated Batavia 33-22 in a Class 6A semifinal to advance to its first state championship game.
Prairie Ridge will play Peoria Richwoods, which defeated Lemont, for the state title on Saturday.
After sharing dozens of hugs with teammates and fans, Greenwald wasn’t sure how to express what he was actually feeling at the moment.
“Words can’t describe how awesome it is,” said Greenwald, who rushed for a game-high 231 yards and two touchdowns. “I’m so happy with my whole team. We worked so hard to get to this point. We did it. It’s awesome.”
It didn’t come easy for Prairie Ridge.
Down 14-13 at halftime, Prairie Ridge (12-1) first turned to its defense to create some momentum. On the opening drive of the second half, Batavia’s offense was rolling and got inside the red zone. But with Batavia facing a fourth-and-2 from the 18, Prairie Ridge broke up a pass and gained possession.
“I think if we score on that drive, the game’s ours,” Batavia quarterback Noel Gaspari said.
Instead, Prairie Ridge took over the ball, drove 82 yards and went ahead 20-14 when Jordan Getzelman rushed for an 18-yard touchdown. Getzelman finished with 101 rushing yards.
A possession later, Prairie Ridge’s Josh Hrudicka picked off a pass and ran the ball 37 yards into the end zone to put the Wolves ahead 26-14. They extended their lead to 33-14 when Greenwald scored the second of his two touchdowns.
Batavia (12-1) did make one more push. With the wind at his back, Gaspari got to work in the fourth quarter. He moved the ball quickly and scored on five plays with 10:56 left in the fourth quarter. He added a 2-point conversion pass to pull Batavia within 33-22.
After stopping Prairie Ridge on its next possession, Gaspari again had the Bulldogs advancing the ball. He had one touchdown pass brought back due to an illegal block. He almost threw another touchdown pass, but Prairie Ridge’s Sean Folliard foiled that with a display of athleticism.
As Batavia’s Evan Zeddies was catching Gaspari’s pass in the end zone, Folliard flew at Zeddies, landed a massive hit and snatched the ball in mid-air for an interception.
“It’s the semifinals, man,” Folliard said. “All out. If you think they got the ball, you got to take it away, take it away. He had the ball, and I stripped it out as he was falling down.”
With that, Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp finally was able to exhale.
“Until time ran out, I was nervous,” he said. “[Folliard’s] so athletic. Him coming away with the ball doesn’t surprise me. Some of the things we get to see him do in practice. But a phenomenal play. One of the plays of the year for us.”
Like Greenwald, Schremp felt a lot of pressure taken off of him with Saturday’s win.
“My wife asked me this morning how I feel,” Schremp said. “I said I don’t know how to feel because it’s going to turn out to be one of the best days of your career or one of the worst days of your career. It turned out pretty good today.”
Gaspari was 29-of-46 passing for 374 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.