BATAVIA — In a football game where 91 points were scored, it was a punt that may have been the turning point in Saturday's Class 7A playoff game between Batavia and Moline.
The Maroons were hanging with the defending 7A state champions, trailing 24-13 late in the first half. Moline forced a punt and was thinking of getting good field position and possibly a late score to make it closer at intermission.
Instead, a booming 61-yard punt put the ball deep in Moline territory, two tackles in the Moline backfield moved the ball back to the 7-yard line and a short punt gave Batavia great field possession.
That's when things fell apart of Moline. A touchdown with 51 seconds left in the half extended the lead to 31-13. Then, a TD on the first play of the second half, a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and another TD a play later made it an insurmountable 45-13 edge.
Top-ranked Batavia (11-0) cruised from there to a 59-32 win over the Maroons, who finish a great season at 9-2.
"We knew we could come back (down 24-13); we had done it a few weeks ago against Quincy," senior wide receiver Xavier Scritchfield said. "We never doubted ourselves. Things just happened that were out of our hands."
That punt by Jackson Williams was one of those things.
"That punt really changed things," Moline coach Mike Morrissey said. "That changed the field position and they got that easy score late. Then, they scored those two touchdowns to start the second half, and that gave them the big gap.
"Still, we didn't quit. We talked at halftime about never giving up and to keep competing. I thought we did that."
The Maroons made it more respectable with three fourth-quarter scores against the Bulldog reserves, but the inability to hang onto the ball was also a huge bugaboo for Moline.
Coming into the game with just 14 turnovers in their first 10 games, the Maroons put the ball on the ground six times, losing four, and threw an interception.
"We really hurt ourselves with turnovers," Morrissey said. "They are really good and showed everyone why they are the defending state champs. They are great in every facet of the game. You just can't give the ball away like that against a team good."
The Maroons actually had an early lead and a chance to add on. On the game's second play, Aboubacar Barry broke free for a 90-yard scoring run, but the play was called back for holding. On the very next play, Scritchfield took a handoff from quarterback Treyton Lamphier and threw a pretty pass to Nate Johnson, who beat the defense 94 yards for a score.
"We were just running our offense," Scritchfield said. "We were confident coming in, and we played that way."
Lamphier got the start at quarterback in place of usual starter Zidain Sterling.
"I made a decision in the middle of the week to start Treyton," Morrissey said.
The Maroons did wind up with 428 totals yards with both Barry, who scored three TDs including an 82-yard run in the final quarter, finishing with 139 yards on 18 carries and Harrison Bey-Buie added 128 yards on 21 attempts.
Batavia finished with 290 yards rushing and 147 passing. On defense, the Bulldogs, who came in with 97½ tackles for loss, piled up a whopping 17 TFLs on Saturday.
"We saw a lot of positives to build on," Morrissey said, "and we saw some things we have to work on. I'm proud of the seniors, and we will miss them."