Northview's Jarrett Batanian celebrates with teammates after his catch of a game-winning touchdown helped the 5-0 Wildcats beat Springfield, 24-21. THE BLADE/KURT STEISS
Northview stunned Springfield with a signature road win as the Wildcats mounted a remarkable comeback cemented with a last-second touchdown in a wild Friday night Northern Lakes League showdown.
Northview senior quarterback Brandon Leach connected with senior wide receiver Jarrett Batanian on the game-clinching, nine-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left to put an exclamation point on a 24-21 shocker. The Wildcats rallied with 24 unanswered points and had to drive the length of the field with just over two minutes to complete the upset.
The Wildcats had trailed by four points and Leach was sacked on the previous play. But Leach delivered the final blow with a shoulder fade to the front pylon as Northview upset the defending NLL champs.
IN PICTURES: Northview 24, Springfield 21
“My adrenaline is through the roof,” said Leach, a steady 6-foot-7 signal caller. “It's a feeling I've never felt before. It was amazing.”
The Wildcats drove 93 yards with 2:05 left to remain undefeated (5-0 overall, 2-0 NLL). Springfield, the preseason NLL favorites, fell to 3-2 and 1-1 in the league.
With under a minute left, Leach and Batanian hooked up on a 60-yard pass. But with 33 seconds to go, Springfield's Michael Key sacked Leach at the Blue Devils' 9. But Leach recovered to call the play and calmly found Batanian open.
“He was playing man and I gave him a stutter step,” Batanian said. “I looked back at Brandon and he looked at me and we had that connection. He threw it in the perfect spot. I'm so thankful I got that ball. Knowing I caught the game-winning [pass], the adrenaline was pumping. It feels amazing.”
Leach completed 12 of 28 passes for 145 yards. Cam Corron was his top target, finishing with five catches for 96 yards. The Wildcats were without the services of all-purpose threat Dane Hullibarger, who was out with a wrist injury.
Springfield had seized a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter thanks to three long scoring plays on a scorching-hot night on the sweltering field turf. But the Wildcats roared back by forcing three turnovers.
“That was awesome,” Northview coach Doug Downing said. “This is a big win. It gets us off to a good start in the league. This sets us up for bigger things down the road. Our kids are tight and I'm really pleased for them. And it's great for our community. The bleachers were full tonight. So this is outstanding.”
It also had to be bitter deja vu for the Blue Devils, who were playing their first home game and seemed in control. The last time Springfield played at home it suffered a heartbreaking 48-41 loss in overtime to Westlake in last year's playoff opener as the Blue Devils squandered a 27-point, fourth-quarter lead.
Springfield junior QB A.J. Gucciardo connected with LaKeith Jackson on a 55-yard passing play for a 7-0 lead on the Blue Devils' first offensive snap. Springfield then took a 14-0 edge on a 59-yard touchdown run by Alex Legeza that featured great lead blocking. Gucciardo then hooked up with Adam Beale on a 21-yard TD strike as Springfield grabbed a 21-0 lead with 8:40 remaining in the first half.
Northview got on the scoreboard on Luke Pawlak's 28-yard field goal that made it 21-3 with 1:45 left in the first half. Joey Okeke then scored on a powerful 27-yard run around the left end to make it 21-10 with 1:25 left in the third quarter. The Wildcats then forced its third turnover of the game and Leach then scored on a 1-yard sneak as Northview pulled within 21-17 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Northview forced a three-and-out on Springfield's first possession of the fourth quarter. But the Wildcats were pinned at their own 1. Northview then drove and went for it on 4th and 13 at the Blue Devils 29. But Springfield's Brett Keeler came up with an interception with 5:13 left.
The Blue Devils then melted most of the clock on several runs by Legeza, who led all rushers with 22 carries for 142 yards for Springfield. Gucciardo was 11 of 15 for 189 yards. But Springfield left just enough time for Leach's heroics.
Downing said Leach has developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the area.
“It's just his growth. He's really progressed,” Downing said. “He manages the game so well.”
Downing said Batanian had never run the winning play in practice.
“It's good because he paid attention in practice,” Downing said. “He did a great job. Our line protected their tail off. That was the biggest thing to me. They gave him time to throw.”
Leach said he's comfortable running the two-minute drill.
“On the play I got sacked, I should have thrown it away. But I knew I had another down to make it up. So I just had to make a big play,” Leach said. “It was pretty much go to the end zone. It was a back-shoulder fade. I knew he would win the one-on-one matchup. He made a great adjustment. It's all the extra work that helps a lot. I knew we could do it. It's amazing.”
Northview's Jeffrey Blanks Jr. (2) congratulates teammate Jarrett Batanian, right, after Batanian made the game-winning catch in a 24-21 win over Springfield. THE BLADE/KURT STEISS
Springfield's Brady Fisher misses a catch as Northview's Ian Donahue defends during Friday's game at Springfield. Northview rallied from 21-3 down to win the game, 24-21. THE BLADE/KURT STEISS