Junior quarterback Braden Tischer, making his second career start, altered the emotional dynamic Friday night for Lincoln-Way East.
Senior running back James Kwiecinski, for one, felt a surge watching Tischer go.
“We didn’t even know he could do what he did tonight,” Kwiecinski said. “We didn’t even know he had the wheels.
“That’s the first time we saw it, and hopefully, there is a lot more coming.”
There was more on the way even after Tischer executed a deft fake on an option in the first quarter that turned into a thrilling 55-yard touchdown run.
“He is electric and he makes big plays,” Kwiecinski said. “If you saw us play last year, we struggled making big plays. Right off the bat, he made a huge play.”
Tischer added two passing TDs as the Griffins grooved to a 31-16 nonconference victory over Batavia in matchup of teams with state title aspirations.
“I feel like I can make plays running the ball,” Tischer said. “But what I really want to do is get the ball to my receivers and let them make plays. Passing is my focus.”
Senior receiver Jayden Cook paced Lincoln-Way East (2-0) in that regard with five receptions for 99 yards. His 56-yard TD catch in the second quarter helped the Griffins build a 31-0 halftime lead.
Tischer completed 14 of 20 passes for 166 yards, but the stunning TD run was the turning point, according to Batavia coach Dennis Piron.
“We’re getting our legs underneath us and we’re trying to figure out the speed of the game,” Piron said. “Then, whoosh, that was a huge emotional moment to try and come back from.”
Batavia (1-1) was hampered by turnovers, penalties and dropped passes.
“Everything went sideways,” Piron said.
The Bulldogs were stymied by three turnovers, including an interception that sophomore defensive tackle Caden O’Rourke returned 33 yards for a TD.
“Early on we were tight and we tried to do too much,” Piron said. “There were a number of things for us to deal with and try and fix early.
“It seemed like everything went against us.”
Batavia did have some bright spots in the second half as Charlie Whelpley caught seven passes for 66 yards.
His 32-yard option pass to Alec Crum also set up a 14-yard TD run by Ryan Whitwell. Crum caught three passes for 96 yards.
“We could have easily said we were going to get blown out in that second half,” Piron said. “I’m very proud of the kids and the composure they showed.”
The threat of Tischer’s speed, meanwhile, only opened up the passing game.
“On that touchdown run, I was just reading the end and he crashed down,” Tischer said. “I just took what the defense gave me and my receiver, Jimmy Curtain, made a great downfield block.
“Getting that first touchdown got our offense loose. Just getting points on the board with our first two drives was really important.”
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On the Griffins’ third possession, Curtain produced an 18-yard TD catch.
Defensively, Lincoln-Way East also made a profound statement in the first half by shutting down Batavia, which scored 43 points in the opener.
Senior linebacker Charlie Nevinger contributed an interception and fumble recovery. O’Rourke, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound defensive tackle, also had six tackles.
“We were on fire and we just all attacked the ball at once,” O’Rourke said. “On the interception, I had to attack the wing and that was the conclusion.”
O’Rourke snared the deflection out the air, racing untouched to punctuate a dominant first half.
“Our big thing is we twist the knife in them and then we twist it,” he said. “We keep beating teams down until they can’t really do anything.”
Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.