Aurora Christian primed for repeat performance
By Rick Armstrong firstname.lastname@example.org November 22, 2012 4:40PM
Chad Beebe is one of three Aurora Christian players who signed to play football for Northern Illinois. | Donnell Collins~Sun-Times Media
Class 3A state title game
Aurora Christian (12-1) Kickoff:
vs. Tolono Unity (12-1)
Kickoff:4 p.m. Friday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Champaign
The scoop: This is a rematch of last year’s semifinal, won 50-26 by the defending 3A champion Eagles. Both teams have talented offenses and strong defenses. ACS coach Don Beebe says both offenses are likely to score and the decision is likely to come down to which defense can come up with the most stops or turnovers.
Traditions of excellence: Unity head coach Scott Hamilton has been on the job 19 years and has never had a losing season. His Rockets have made the playoffs every year. This is the fourth team he’s taken to the title game. Unity took second in 2000 (2A), 2005 (3A) and 2009 (3A).
ACS coach Don Beebe is in his ninth season and Eagles are making their ninth playoff appearance. They were second in 4A in 2008 and won last year’s 3A title.
Updated: November 23, 2012 2:32PM
They meet again, this time on a neutral field with the state title on the line.
Tolono Unity football players won’t have to go far — about a 15-minute bus ride up Interstate 57 — to get to Memorial Stadium in Champaign Friday afternoon for their date with Aurora Christian in the Class 3A championship game.
“It doesn’t really matter where you play this game. It’s great for all 16 teams (in eight classes) to make it this far,” said veteran Unity coach Scott Hamilton, who is taking his fourth Rockets team to the championship but has yet to come way with a title.
“You lay it on the line for a state championship. A lot of kids have sacrificed a lot to have the opportunity and there’s a lot of kids who dream of playing in it.
“I’m fortunate, this is my fourth time (taking Unity) and my sixth overall. I was an assistant at Hardin-Calhoun when we won back-to-back titles in 1992-93.”
Since then, Hamilton has spent 19 years at Unity where his teams have had 19 straight winning seasons and made it to the postseason every year.
“I think it’s important that you don’t take (getting this far in the playoffs) for granted,” he said. “Each one is special and deserves to be appreciated.”
His Rockets nearly made it last year, but traveled to Aurora Christian for a semifinal and lost 50-26.
Does that make the Eagles — trying to repeat as 3A state champs — a strong favorite?
Not so fast, warns ACS coach Don Beebe.
“Let’s first talk about that game,” he said. “We could have lost that game. We were down (26-20) with about 10 minutes left.”
They were down by that score with nine and eight minutes left, too. And they had trailed 14-0 early in the contest.
The Eagles scored with 7:24 remaining to take the lead for good “and then the floodgates opened,” noted Beebe, remembering his team scored 21 points in a 52-second span.
Will Unity have revenge on its mind?
Hamilton, for one, doesn’t buy into that.
“We don’t get big into that revenge thinking,” he said. “This is a new year, a new group of kids, for us as well as for them. It’s a totally new situation.”
Both teams had a close call in getting here — Unity edged unbeaten Williamsville 10-7 in the quarterfinal and ACS topped Immaculate Conception 28-21 in the second round in the teams’ second meeting of the season — and both won last week by wide margins.
Aurora Christian, playing as well in the first half as it has all season, according to Beebe, beat Sterling Newman 41-7. Tolono Unity whipped Greenville 56-21.
The Rockets are led by a junior quarterback, Justin Deters, who has thrown for 1,049 yards and run for 1,272. Running back Conner Grace has gained 1,462 yards rushing and Mitch Negangard has 947 yards rushing.
Micah Johnson, his team’s “home run threat” according to Hamilton, has 31 catches for 670 yards receiving and 59 rushing attempts for 350 yards.
While his numbers pale in comparison to ACS receiving leaders Chad Beebe (62-956) and Cory Windle (48-849), Hamilton notes that Johnson missed the final three weeks of the regular season due to injury but has come back strong in the playoffs.
The Rockets coach is also wary of ACS running backs Jouel Bouagnon (1,380 yards rushing) and Brandon Mayes (795).
“I think the biggest difference you notice (from last year) is that their quarterback (Ryan McQuade, 2,913 yards passing) seems to throw as well as (Anthony) Maddie did last year but he doesn’t run it like Maddie. He just turns and hands it off to those power backs, which is a pretty good option. And their receiving corps is pretty similar and several of the same kids.”
Beebe expects both offenses to put up points.
“It may well boil down to which defense can control the other offense better,” he said. “Which defense can come up with a key stop or two or force a turnover. It could come down to a field goal.”