After the Aurora Christian football team shredded previously unbeaten Sterling Newman, 41-7, in Saturday’s IHSA Class 3A state semifinal, Newman coach Mike Papoccia joked that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles went on to lose in the state championship game – if they were playing in Class 6A or 7A.
Or was Papoccia joking?
The Eagles have been a powerhouse program for most of coach Don Beebe’s nine-year tenure but have found another gear the past two seasons. Last year’s 3A state champion Eagles won each of their five playoff games by a minimum of 13 points, and with the exception of a competitive second-round win against Immaculate Conception, the Eagles are again turning this year’s playoff contests into laughers.
It’s reached the point that a reporter asked Beebe after the semifinal win in Sterling whether he thought the Eagles might be outgrowing the challenge of playing in 3A – a notion Beebe quickly refuted.
“It’s never easy,” Beebe said. “It never gets easy. I can’t tell you the hours of watching film that [Eagles defensive coordinator Dave Beebe] and I put in, and the time we spend as a staff, and the commitment of these kids.
“ ... It’s never easy, and it never will be easy. If it’s easy, I’ve got to get out.”
Fair enough, but that won’t stop many from assuming Friday’s 3A state championship game against downstate power Tolono Unity is an inevitable coronation for Aurora Christian.
After all, all 12-1 records are not created alike.
Aurora Christian’s loss came against 5A dynasty Montini – a game the Eagles led until the final 75 seconds of the fourth quarter. Montini is also the program that handed the Eagles their lone defeat last season.
Unity, meanwhile, fell to Moweaqua Central A&M, and didn’t play or beat the larger schools that dot the Eagles’ Suburban Christian Conference schedule, such as St. Francis and Marmion.
This isn’t to say that Unity – which faded in the late stages of last year’s 50-26 loss to Aurora Christian in the state semifinals – isn’t a worthy 3A finalist.
But Papoccia was on to something in that the Eagles are hardly cut from a prototypical 3A cloth. How many 3A teams are sending a trio of seniors to a quality Division I program, as the Eagles are in Northern Illinois-bound standouts Chad Beebe (who missed the Montini loss with an injury), Joel Bouagnon and Brandon Mayes?
Like any well-schooled team, the Eagles will take a grounded approach into Friday’s championship game.
“We take it one game at a time,” senior linebacker Ryan Suttle said after the Newman rout. “We know that nothing’s for sure. ... No game’s 100 percent sure. We’ve just got to go out there and make plays.”
By now, Don Beebe not only carries the cachet of his NFL playing career, but has also earned the reputation as a top-notch high school football coach. It’s little surprise that his presence has made Aurora Christian an attractive destination for talented football players who are interested in a Christian education.
But this year’s team, which features a defense Beebe considers the best in his tenure to complement the Eagles’ always prolific offense, is a different animal.
In only a couple more days, it’ll be time for the Eagles to try and prove they’re tops in the state in Class 3A.
If they win decisively, Papoccia wouldn’t be the only one wondering how much more Aurora Christian is capable of proving.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org