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Jerome Christmas helps lead AU football to home victory

AurorUniversity defensive back Hayes Cooper (17) sidesteps AlmCollege wide receiver Tyler Watters as he returns an interceptiset up winning touchdown

Aurora University defensive back Hayes Cooper (17) sidesteps Alma College wide receiver Tyler Watters as he returns an interception to set up the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 14, 2012 10:09PM

Mark Walsh unwrapped an early present, courtesy of Jerome Christmas, Saturday afternoon at Aurora University’s Vago Field.

A senior defensive end, Christmas came up with the play of the game in AU’s 24-21 victory over Alma College.

Trailing 14-10 early in the fourth quarter, Christmas stripped the ball from Alma running back Shannon Green at the Scots 22.

“The guy (Green) had the ball out (away from his body) and I ripped it out,” Christmas said. “I ripped it right into my hands and turned around.”

When he turned around, Christmas saw nothing but open space and he ran into the end zone to give AU the lead. Christmas also scored a touchdown against Illinois Wesleyan when he intercepted a pass.

“For a defensive end, that’s remarkable,” Walsh said. “Jerome is a big-time player and has that kind of ability.”

It wasn’t the game-winner since Alma (0-3) came back to regain the lead on a 2-yard run by Joey Jerisk with 7:16 remaining.

In fact, the Spartans appeared to be in trouble because the offense was sputtering. Then the defense provided the lift for a second time.

This time, Marmion graduate Hayes Cooper intercepted an Alma pass and ran it back to the Scots’ 17. Two plays later AU quarterback Jimmy Bevell (17-for-26, 224 yards) hooked up with Mike Ghanem for a 6-yard TD to give the Spartans the lead for good.

The winning score started with Bevell faking a handoff to tailback Brandon Trujillo. He then floated the pass to Ghanem, who caught a 29-yard TD pass from Bevell in the first quarter, in the flat. And Ghanem, with the help of a perfect downfield block at the goal line from Noah Martin, coasted into the end zone.

It wasn’t a perfect win for the Spartans (1-1). Although the defense held the Scots to 222 total yards and came up with scores of big plays, it also allowed Alma to convert three fourth down plays on a drive that eventually resulted in a touchdown.

“That bothered me,” Walsh, who picked up his first victory as a head college football coach. “Our defense was on the field for a long time.”

“You work so hard to get to stop ’em on third down then you give up a fourth down and you know that fourth down conversions usually lead to scores,” Christmas said.

The teams combined for eight turnovers in a contest that could never be called artistic and kept the outcome in doubt to the last play.

“I would have been shocked if it wasn’t,” Walsh said. “It seems like every time we took a couple steps forward then we’d do something with a penalty and set us back.”

None of that really mattered. Walsh was able to relax and savor his first victory. “It was as much work as I thought it would be,” he said.

“You get used to that in coaching — you project all the bad things that can happen.”

Most of them on this day happened to Alma.

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