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Smith helps keep Eagles together

Aurora Christian running back Legend Smith carries the ball in an Oct. 4 game against Marmion in Aurora. Smith has run for 1,128 yards and 14 touchdowns on 141 carries this season.
Aurora Christian running back Legend Smith carries the ball in an Oct. 4 game against Marmion in Aurora. Smith has run for 1,128 yards and 14 touchdowns on 141 carries this season. Game of the Week Breakdown: Class 7A playoffs, Round 1: St. Patrick (6-3) at Geneva (7-2), 7:30 p.m. todayPrep Football Round One Preview CapsulesRound 1 Check-downs

The Aurora Christian football team entered its regular-season finale at Guerin on Saturday with a three-game losing streak, desperate for a jolt of confidence, not to mention a playoff-clinching sixth win.

Legend Smith was happy to oblige, rocking the hapless Gators defense for 331 rushing yards and six touchdowns as the two-time defending IHSA Class 3A state champions stemmed the slide leading into the playoffs. Smith and the Eagles visit Suburban Christian Conference foe IC Catholic Prep on Saturday in a first-round, 3A matchup.

Smith, a senior, said he ran so much against Guerin that his ankle was “a good sore” afterward, but then again a malady of any sort is no laughing matter for the Eagles at this stage. Smith has been among a minority of Eagles starters who has been healthy enough to stay on the field late in the regular season, when much of Aurora Christian’s top-tier talent was sidelined by various injuries.

Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe said, in retrospect, he felt badly about not giving Smith one more carry since he was five yards off the program’s single-game record, of which he was not aware at the time. Smith didn’t play in the second half as the Eagles won via running clock.

Also a skillful cornerback, Smith played a larger role on defense during the Eagles’ title run last season before becoming the team’s featured back with the graduation of Joel Bouagnon, now at Northern Illinois.

“We knew what we had in Legend Smith,” Beebe said. “The kid’s a great running back. He’s certainly a college guy. He reminded me a lot – and we train Anthony Scaccia over at Batavia, so I know Anthony well – and they’re a lot alike with style of running and the type of builds, and both of those guys are just great kids.”

After starting the season 5-0, the Eagles were soundly beaten three straight weeks by Marmion (35-14), IC Catholic (48-6) and Montini (49-0). Considering most of the team’s regulars were unavailable for some of the Marmion game and the entire IC Catholic and Montini games, the results have to be kept in perspective.

Beebe called Smith “hands down” the team’s best, all-around player, and credited Smith for keeping the Eagles afloat from a morale standpoint with so many underclassmen filling in for injured regulars.

“It’s crazy, we’ve lost three of four and a couple of them bad – that can be really humiliating for a team and tear them apart, but it’s actually brought us closer together,” Beebe said. “I’m encouraged about Legend being one of those guys to keep this thing rolling and keep it positive. … He’s one of my favorite kids I’ve ever coached.”

Added Smith: “The three-game losing streak, it didn’t bother me that much. I know what we’re capable of, and I know if we put our mind to it and we have faith in each other, we can pull through.”

One of the injured Eagles has been rocket-armed junior quarterback Austin Bray (dislocated shoulder). Beebe declined to say which of the team’s injured starters would play Saturday, including Bray.

With a freshman – Ben Weerts – under center the past few weeks, the Eagles have had to turn more to their running game to move the chains, but Smith said he hasn’t felt extra pressure.

“We can’t just depend on one group to do all the work,” Smith said. “We’re a team. We have to work together.”

On the season, Smith has rushed for 1,128 yards and 14 TDs on 141 carries.

He hasn’t played much defense lately since his workload on offense has spiked with the team’s injury woes in the passing game.

It’s been a trying past month for Aurora Christian, but November has been good to the Eagles in the recent past. If they can make it there again this year, Smith won’t sweat the team’s struggles along the way.

“We sometimes mess up, but we work at it,” Smith said of the past few weeks. “It’s not always going to be perfect, but we strive to be perfect.”

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