KCChronicle.com/preps Game of the Week: 3A state championship game: Aurora Christian (12-1) vs. Tolono Unity (12-1) 4 p.m. today at Memorial Stadium in Champaign
The buzz Two teams featuring high-end offenses figure to keep the University of Illinois scoreboard operator much busier than during a typical Illini game.
Last year’s 50-26 Aurora Christian win when the teams met in the state semifinals in Aurora likely foreshadows the complexion of today’s matchup.
“It’s going to be a spectator’s game to watch,” Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe said.
The Eagles will have it rolling if ... Quarterback Ryan McQuade plays like he did during the first half of last week’s 41-7, semifinal romp at Sterling Newman.
McQuade, a linebacker when the Eagles won their state title last season against Mount Carmel, has thrown for 2,913 yards on the season, and was on autopilot in the early stages of the Newman game before cooling off as the game unfolded.
With the way defenses have to honor Aurora Christian’s running game this season, there will be opportunities for McQuade to hit talented wideouts Chad Beebe and Cory Windle downfield for the kind of big strikes to which the Eagles have become accustomed.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles’ defense, featuring standouts such as linemen Josh Kok and Jonah Walker, linebacker Joel Bouagnon and safety Brandon Mayes, have done an excellent job this season backing up Beebe’s preseason prediction that this would be the Eagles’ top defense in program history.
It’s no time to make a liar of Beebe now.
“You’re going to see two explosive offenses just really going at it,” Beebe said. “I think the team that wins is what defense can hold the other offense in check more, and get turnovers. That will be the key to the football game.”
What a fly in the Eagles’ locker room might overhear ... “They say the hardest thing in sports is to defend a championship, but I’m not sure I agree with that right now. Personally, I think the hardest thing to do would be to deal with this team in this locker room right now. I like to think we have some pretty good coaches in here, but I’m not sure we could prepare much of a game plan to deal with you guys.
“If you guys give me everything you have from start to finish today, we are going to win this football game, and you guys are going to be champions again. Don’t take this opportunity for granted.”
The Rockets will have it rolling if ... They play a full four quarters. Sounds elementary, but Unity learned the hard way how critical that is in last season’s state semi, when a narrow lead turned into a 24-point loss during a disastrous final 10 minutes.
The first guy Aurora Christian fans will notice in warmups figures to be Unity senior nose guard Logan Sehie, who cuts quite the profile at 6-foot-7, 330 pounds. He’ll be the daunting assignment for Eagles junior center Tristin Withrow, whom Beebe said “likes a street fight.”
“We’ve never seen anybody that big ... you see those guys on Sunday afternoons, not Friday nights,” Beebe said.
Veteran coach Scott Hamilton’s Rockets defense is further highlighted by 6-foot-1, 205-pound linebacker Mitch Negangard, who has 59 solo tackles on the season, and speedy linebacker Kolson McFall.
But while the Rockets’ ‘D’ took center stage in a 10-7, quarterfinal win at Williamsville, Unity is generally known more for its offense. Unity has scored 41 or more points eight times this season, including in last week’s 56-21, semifinal thrashing of Greenville.
Connor Grace, the Rockets’ lone two-way starter, has rushed for 1,462 yards and 16 touchdowns, similar numbers to quarterback Justin Deters (1,272 yards, 15 TDs). Deters has also thrown for 1,049 yards, but it’s the Rockets’ ability to chew up yards – and clock – on the ground that is their bread and butter.
“Are they better [than last year]? Yeah, I think they are,” Beebe said. “Are we better? No doubt. So I think it’s two better football teams that will be facing each other this year. It’ll be quite interesting to see how things pan out.”
What a fly on the wall in the Rockets’ locker room might overhear ... “We all know it would be awesome to win a state championship, but I’m not sure you boys realize just how special of an opportunity this is. If we win this football game, I promise you, we could all run the nine miles back to Tolono without breaking a sweat.
“We’ve put a game plan together that will keep us right in this game, and then it’ll be up to you guys to make the plays in the fourth quarter that we didn’t make last year. This year, we don’t crumble when the game gets tough! If you stand up to adversity like champions, we’re going to have a celebration like you wouldn’t believe.”
Jay Schwab’s prediction: Aurora Christian 38, Tolono Unity 23 Take your pick – offense, defense, kicking game, coaching – and this Aurora Christian team has no weaknesses.
Even if Unity succeeds in taking a few of the Eagles’ top options away, there are plenty of attractive contingency plans in the Eagles’ playbook. Look for the Eagles’ standout senior trio of receiver Chad Beebe, linebacker/running back Joel Bouagnon and safety/running back Brandon Mayes to add one more big-time victory to their resumes as the Eagles build a two-touchdown halftime cushion and hang on for back-to-back state championships.