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Aurora Central ready for first playoff game in 15 years

AurorCentral's Jake McCarthy Chargers have earned their first playoff bid since 1997. | Sean King~For Sun-Times Media

Aurora Central's Jake McCarthy and the Chargers have earned their first playoff bid since 1997. | Sean King~For Sun-Times Media

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When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Last year: Bartlett 45, South Elgin 10

Erik Jacobsen’s pick: Bartlett

Updated: October 25, 2012 7:38PM

Aurora Central may be the new kids on this football playoff block but that may not be all bad.

“If you haven’t been in the playoffs a long time, chances are you’ll bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” said Dick Duval, who should know of what he speaks.

Duval is in his 25th season coaching St. Joseph-Ogden and his team is ACC’s first-round opponent in the IHSA Class 3A playoffs.

This is the Chargers’ first playoff appearance in 15 years.

Duval’s Spartans are at the opposite end of the spectrum. He has a 217-68 record in this, his 25th season coaching the Spartans. It is his program’s 22nd straight playoff appearance.

Duval and St. Joe-Ogden have made it to the title game four times and come up short four times.

Still, it’s little wonder he’s an Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

“I think our kids are pretty fired up. It’s a rallying cry (ending that drought),” said ACC third-year coach Brian Casey. “Really, the pressure is probably on them. They’re the higher seed, they’re playing at home and don’t have a three-hour bus ride. They’ve done it before.

“We’re kind of the dumbbells at this. We don’t know how to be acting, how jazzed up to be. There may be nerves early on because of that, but I think our kids will be pretty loose.”

This one could go to the survivor of a battle of attrition. The Spartans’ leading running back is 6-2, 185 senior Chase Patton. He rushed for 243 yards and four TDs in leading the team to a come-from-behind 27-19 victory over Sangamon Valley Conference rival Watseka earlier in the year.

Three weeks ago, though, he suffered a shoulder separation and missed the last two weeks.

“It’s not easy when you lose your leading rusher and scorer. He has about 1,070 yards rushing and 20 TDs,” said Duval.

“He’s more of a stretch runner. We’ve replaced him with (5-9, 170) Austin Hedrick, who has been adequate but is not as big and not as powerful. He’s a little bit of a darter.”

Duval wasn’t trying to be coy, but did note that Patton did don pads at a mid-week practice but had no contact.

“If this were the NFL, he would be questionable,” said the coach, who also will likely be without starting middle linebacker Josh Poulter. “He’s doubtful on defense but may try to give it a go on offense.”

Casey, however, won’t be feeling too sorry for the Spartans. He was without six starters in last week’s loss to Montini and found out Thursday starting sophomore QB Matt Rahn would miss his second straight game with mononucleosis.

Junior Matt Schaefer came off the bench and played QB for the first time in more than a year and led ACC to 285 yards of total offense in the loss to the three-time defending state champs.

Several other Charger players are banged up and would likely be termed “questionable” for the 5 p.m. Saturday game. It is at St. Joe, which is 20 minutes east of Champaign off Interstate 74. Enthusiastic ACC fans are planning to begin tailgating in the parking lot at 3 p.m.

“Matt (Rahn) is a great asset, but Matt (Schaefer) can move the ball just as well,” said Casey, whose strong ground game has been led all season by Steven Amoni.

“We need to do what we do. I think we’re familiar with anything they can throw at us (defensively).”

St. Joe junior QB Dalton Walsh has thrown for nearly 1,100 yards for the Spartans who like to be balanced but probably are a little run heavy this season.

Duval’s biggest concern?

“We’re not a very big team,” he said.

“They’re a bigger team and they play in a much better league, too. Take that 6-3 record and throw it out the door. When you play in that league, you’re battle-tested. That’s a big concern for us.”

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