Hard to imagine a team had more adrenaline pumping on opening night of the football season than Aurora Christian.
Coach Don Beebe’s Eagles had a Week 1 date with a defending state champion, and not just any defending state champ, but a Stillman Valley team that shoved Aurora Christian out of the playoffs the year before.
The Eagles responded in inspired fashion, pouncing on Stillman Valley for a 38-20 win and a heck of a tone-setter for the season.
Since then, the Eagles have creamed three straight overmatched opponents, but things haven’t been the same, from a thrills-and-chills standpoint. That changes Friday, when the Eagles finally have another big date at hand, this time at mighty Montini.
Aurora Christian’s scores the past three weeks: 48-0 over Chicago Academy, 54-7 at Chicago Christian and 43-0 against Guerin. And to think, the Eagles inflicted that damage without their two top receivers – Grayson Roberts and Chad Beebe – both of whom could return this week from collarbone injuries.
Don Beebe acknowledges much of September has been a battle of will to keep his talented bunch cut-in – until this week.
“Sometimes that’s very difficult to teach a 16, 17 year old boy to be professional in what they do, knowing that you probably are going to win the game and even, at some point, win big,” Beebe said.
“You can get complacent. I thought Chicago Christian, when we got down there, we were a little giddy.
“Believe me, that bus won’t be giddy Friday night, going to Montini.”
Preseason buzz indicated that Aurora Christian could be a serious state title contender in Class 3A, and the Eagles have fueled that notion throughout the first month.
Western Michigan-bound quarterback Anthony Maddie guides a stacked offense that has displayed the depth to withstand injury woes at receiver and left tackle. Aurora Christian’s defense, even with its own injury concerns (starting linebacker Ryan McQuade is out with a concussion), is a formidable unit, too.
“I like this team, I really do,” Beebe said. “When we get the kids back, I think we’re going to be pretty good.”
Maybe even great, and no less will be required to take down the Broncos. Montini, the two-time defending 5A state champions, carries a humble 2-2 record after dropping a 21-20 loss to fellow Suburban Christian Conference power Marian Central on Friday, but that lukewarm mark figures to have the Broncos especially surly this week.
Beebe recounted several benchmark wins during his tenure that tracked the program’s rise – against foes such as Coal City, Driscoll, Wilmington and, now, Stillman Valley – and said a win against Montini this week would signal the Eagles are reaching yet another level.
“We’re looking at it as this would be a great stepping-stone, great momentum going into the final stretch, the latter half of the season,” Beebe said. “If you’re fortunate to beat a team like Montini, what kind of boost does that do for your confidence going into the rest of the year? That’s huge.”
In Beebe’s estimation, Maddie’s presence gives the Eagles a fighting chance against just about anyone. Even with a shorthanded receiving corps, he has thrown for 1,048 yards already on 64 for 102 passing with 17 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Friday’s game is a rarity in that, for a change, Maddie won’t be the highest-profile fella on the field. Montini receiver Jordan Westerkamp, a Nebraska recruit, has been described as the best player venerable Broncos coach Chris Andriano has coached.
“It’s kind of like playing Michael Jordan,” Beebe said. “He’s going to get his deal and you just have to limit everybody else. Are we going to try and do something different to stop him? I guess my question is why, because everyone else has tried and no one has succeeded. The kid’s a great wideout.”
It’s the kind of challenge that will have the Eagles stirring like it’s opening night.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.