Schwab: Harmonious stars power Aurora Christian to title
CHAMPAIGN – An Aurora Christian football team that likely would have been favored to successfully defend its 3A football state title anyway added Joel Bouagnon, a force on both sides of the ball who gave the Eagles a third Division I recruit.
It was the caliber of addition that could make a great team unstoppable – unless it fouled up the Eagles’ team chemistry.
After the Eagles blew past Tolono Unity, 42-12, in Friday’s 3A state title game, it was clear as can be that Bouagnon fit in just fine in the Eagles’ locker room after transferring from Burlington Central.
“When Joel came, I was jumping off the wall,” said Aurora Christian senior Brandon Mayes, who had to make the most personal sacrifices to accommodate Bouagnon’s carries. “I was like ‘Yes!’ Because he’s just such a good player. I just love the guy.”
The testimonial wasn’t finished.
“He’s a big lug,” Mayes said of Bouagnon, who moved to Batavia. “I love that guy. Since I met Joel, we just hit it off. I’m so happy to know him, I’m so blessed to have him in my life. It’s just been great, being with him.”
Rosy sentiments flow like water after state championships are won, but these weren’t new feelings Mayes expressed. Throughout the season, Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe marveled about how Bouagnon and Mayes melded into a superb 1-2 punch in the Eagles’ backfield.
“They’re so unselfish, they don’t care who is getting the ball, and they’ve had this relationship all year,” Beebe said. “I think that’s really a neat thing to see in high school football, the unselfishness. They don’t care.”
Mayes, who will be a defensive back at Northern Illinois, doesn’t have as powerful a build as Bouagnon – the Eagles’ middle linebacker – but they might as well be twins, judging by their stats in the state title game.
Both were credited with 11 tackles, tying for team lead. Bouagnon rushed 10 times for 95 yards, Mayes 12 times for 71 yards. And each found the end zone twice, with Mayes’ final score coming on a 75 yard interception return that helped salt the win away as part of the Eagles’ fourth quarter explosion.
Maybe the most surprising number unveiled Friday was that Mayes’ interception return for a touchdown was his first during a remarkable Eagles career.
“I know [defensive coordinator Dave Beebe] has been chewing his can about that for the last half of the season,” Beebe said. “He saved it for the biggest of moments to kind of put the game away.”
Mayes had a pick-six last year that was called back because of a penalty. He said Dave Beebe, Don’s brother, predicted he’d notch one that counted at a dramatic moment.
“It’s prophecy,” Mayes said.
“It’s definitely fitting,” added Eagles two-way lineman Josh Kok said. “It’s kind of been a little bit of a joke in defensive practices, especially with M.J. [Zepeda], who had three pick-sixes this year. He’s like ‘Brandon, where’s your pick-six? You don’t get your wings,’ because [Dave Beebe] buys wings for whoever gets a defensive touchdown.”
Beebe has called Mayes the best player he has coached because of his versatility, leadership and nose for the football. And Beebe called Friday’s performance – which also included a 70-yard kickoff return to spark the sluggish Eagles, who were trailing 12-0 early – the finest of Mayes’ career.
Mayes is talented enough to command top billing on most football teams, but was perfectly content to share it on this one with his future Northern Illinois teammates, Bouagnon and Chad Beebe.
“It’s always fun when you get the ball, I mean who doesn’t want the ball, but that’s one good thing about this team – we are so unselfish,” Mayes said. “I just really point back to our character.”
While Mayes and his fellow Aurora Christian seniors were celebrating back-to-back state championships, Friday was a new sensation for the Eagles’ prized addition.
“It was great to win my first one,” Bouagnon said. “It’s always been my dream, and then finally senior year, there’s no better way to take it out.”
Transfers don’t always work out, even when they’re as gifted as Bouagnon. But when a team leader like Mayes rolls out the welcome mat, it can make the difference.
On Friday, Aurora Christian stuck together through a frustrating three quarters, then played a fourth quarter worthy of a two-time state champion.
It was the kind of performance that had everyone in Eagles colors jumping off the walls.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.