A dream start for the Oregon football team quickly turned into a nightmare against Aurora Christian.
The Hawks opened with a touchdown on their opening possession, only to see the Eagles respond with 49 straight points on their way to a 49-20 victory on Saturday night, Nov. 9, in a Class 3A second-round playoff game.
"They just have talent everywhere," Oregon senior fullback/linebacker Sawyer Reynolds said. "We just got outplayed tonight. They're just better football players, I guess."
The key to the game for Oregon (6-5) was to chew up yardage and time with a methodical rushing attack. The plan worked to a tee on the game's opening possession, as the Hawks marched 73 yards in 18 plays, all but one of them on the ground.
The lone pass was a 2-yarder from Tyler Blume to Pierce Dhaese for a touchdown on fourth down, and the Hawks used 9 minutes, 16 seconds of clock.
"That was absolutely ideal," Oregon coach John Bothe said. "That's what we envisioned. It was just a great start."
Once Aurora Christian got its hands on the ball, however, it was a huge problem for the Hawks. The
Eagles (8-3) scored on all five of their first-half possessions, and senior wide receiver Brandon Walgren seemed to be in the middle of everything.
He caught six first-half passes for 179 yards, including TD catches of 45 and 44 yards from junior quarterback Austin Bray. Walgren also threw a 30-yard TD pass to Zach Bosek, and his 44-yard punt return set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Legend Smith.
"We knew coming into this week we were going to pass a lot, and I was excited for this game knowing that," Walgren said. "Austin had a great game passing, and he put that ball on me when he needed to."
"I always thought Brandon could be a great football player when he was a freshman," AC coach Don Beebe said, "but I wasn't sure if he had that moxie and that big-play attitude. He had big-play ability, but these last few games, he's really taken things over."
Aurora Christian, which is seeking its third consecutive Class 3A state championship, quickly took care of business in the second half. Smith took a screen pass 56 yards for a score on the opening play of the third quarter to up the margin to 42-7.
Reynolds fumbled on the first play of Oregon's next possession, the game's only turnover, and the Eagles quickly cashed in. Five runs by Smith produced Aurora Christian's seventh and final TD with 8:35 remaining in the third quarter to make the score 49-7 and set a running clock in motion the rest of the way.
Allowing an early Oregon score didn't even register on the adversity scale for the Eagles, who started 5-0, then suffered a rash of injuries that led to a three-game losing streak. Fifteen of 22 starters were sidelined at least part of the time in losses to Aurora Marmion (35-14), IC Catholic (48-6) and Lombard Montini (49-0).
Aurora Christian has gotten players back, however, and it's showed. The Eagles beat IC Catholic 24-3 in the first round last week before handling Oregon.
"It was ugly," Beebe said of his team's rough patch. "It was just awful football, and I felt bad for the kids.
As their coach, I had to try to keep everything together and say, 'Guys, we'll get through this.' We kept praying every day, and it really brought us together. Adversity does that. It was a metaphor for the beginning of this game. Oregon ran it down our throats, 3, 4 yards at a time, and we couldn't do anything about it. But we stuck together, and we got it turned around."
Oregon made the score more respectable down the stretch with a pair of short TD runs by Adam Bettner and Reynolds. Much better than that, however, was qualifying for the playoffs in the first place, and gaining a memorable first-round victory over Wilmington.
After a loss to Rock Falls to conclude a 2-7 2012 season, Bothe challenged his returning players in a postgame meeting.
"I kind of read it to the juniors," Bothe said. "I kind of let them have it. Our program was on the brink last year. We were down on the mat. We weren't knocked out, but we were down on the mat. If we didn't respond this year, who knows where we'd be?
"These kids, especially this senior group, responded and brought us back to life. Where we go from here, I don't know, but this group definitely bounced us back."
In other 3A action, Winnebago beat Kanakee McNamara 27-12; Stillman Valley beat Erie-Prophetstown 24-14; Williamsville defeated Tolono Unity 45-7; Mt. Carmel edged Carterville 50-49 in overtime; Greenville beat Robinson 49-21; St. Joseph Ogden shut out Monticello 35-0; and Seneca defeated Chicago Robeson 46-6.
In quarterfinal action Nov. 16, Winnebago travels to Stillman Valley and Aurora Christian travles to Seneca.
The winners of Saturday's games will play in the state semifinals on Nov. 23. The championship game is Friday, Nov. 29 at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Earlier preview story:
By Andy Colbert
Aurora Christian has only been playing football for 15 years.
In 2002, the Eagles made the playoffs for the first time. After a slow start in 1A and losing to teams like Ashton-Franklin Center in the playoffs, Aurora hired former NFL player Don Beebe (88-22 record) as its coach.
Moving up to 3A, Aurora eventually won state titles in 2011 and 2012. During the 2011 playoff run, the closest game they had was against Oregon, a 34-21 loss that wasn’t decided until the final minute.
The year before, Aurora put a 38-0 beating on the Hawks. It will be 6-4 Oregon and 7-3 Aurora going at it again this Saturday at 6 p.m. at Aurora’s new stadium built in 2008.
The Hawks come into the contest flying high after a huge win over Wilmington. AC defeated rival Elmhurst Catholic 24-3, after losing to them 48-6 earlier in the year.
“We show resilience, sticking with it,” Oregon coach John Bothe said. “I think that will carry over against Aurora Christian.”
AC’s earlier loss to Elmhurst was deceiving, as it was resting several players because of injuries. The Eagles’ record is also deceiving because of the tough schedule they play, including losses to 5A state champ Montini and 6A playoff team Marmion.
The Eagles no longer have superstar quarterback Anthony Maddie, who completed nearly every pass thrown against Oregon, but do have a solid passer in 6-3, 220-pound Austin Bray.
“He’s a little different than Maddie. He’s not quite the passer,” Bothe said.
The feature running back is Legend Smith, a 5-8, 175-pounder. AC runs the ball more than they did in the past, but still have a solid pass game.
They also have a bit more size in the line. Oregon will play the same personnel on defense, but move players around depending on the down and distance.
“As a program, we have the utmost respect for Oregon,” AC athletic director Dan Beebe said. “We know how good the Big Northern conference is and that Oregon plays different style of football than we’re used to. They gave us all we could handle last time.”