CHICAGO – All seemed to line up for the Aurora Central Catholic football team to take the next step in returning its once proud program back to prominence.
Four years ago, coach Brian Casey rescued a struggling Chargers program that hadn’t seen the playoffs in more than a decade. ACC finally made it to the postseason last season before losing in the first round in Class 3A.
Saturday’s IHSA Class 4A first round game against Chicago King at Gately Stadium represented the next step in the Chargers’ ascent, a seemingly winnable game against a program that had never won a postseason contest.
Despite earning what seemed like a favorable playoff draw, ACC was hit a by a buzz-saw as King took advantage of four Chargers turnovers on its way to a 36-6, first-round win.
The win propels the Jaguars (8-2) into a second-round contest with Harvard while ACC heads home wondering what could have been.
“We didn’t have film on them and didn’t have a roster; we didn’t really know anything about them,” Casey said. “When you have a couple of athletes like that, it makes it tough. We got hit by a buzz-saw today.”
The athletes Casey alluded to were quarterback Nathaniel Powell and receiver/running back Kyle Harris. Harris had 243 yards of total offense on the afternoon, consistently gashing ACC’s defense for huge chunks of yardage while Powell burned the Chargers on inside keepers and deep balls.
Upon punting on its first possession, ACC (6-4) watched Harris take an inside hand-off 57 yards down the left sideline to set up the first of two Powell rushing touchdowns that made it 8-0 early.
The score was part of a huge day for Powell, who is getting looks from Division I schools Northern Illinois, Illinois and Cincinnati. The senior dual-threat quarterback finished 5 for 8 for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Powell found Harris on a pair of long play-action passes, the first going for a 70-yard touchdown that put King up, 16-0.
While its defense was trying to keep King’s speedy duo in front of them, ACC’s offense had success running the ball, methodically moving the chains in the first half. Unfortunately for the Chargers, a fumble and a turnover on downs – both occurring inside King territory – negated first half scoring chances as the Jaguars led, 16-0, at halftime.
The second half was just as troubling for the ACC offense. After King scored on the opening possession of the second half to increase its lead to 24-0, Cody Ekstrom fumbled on the Chargers’ own 37. Four plays later, Powell found a wide-open Myron Owens for a 10-yard touchdown strike that blew the game open, 30-0.
“I know people had us losing this game coming in, but we just treated it as any other game and come out and did what we had to do to get the win,” Powell said. “I waited my entire four years to get this win. It will make the players happy and the coaches happy. Now we have to get ready for next week.”
With King scoring at such a high clip, the Chargers were forced to throw the ball, something that their offense is not designed to rely upon. Senior quarterback Matt Schaefer had a tough day under center, going 5 for 11 for 47 yards and a pair of interceptions. Schaefer was also called for a pair of intentional grounding penalties in the second half.
“I thought we were going to come out and play hard, but we came out and were flat and they took advantage of that,” ACC running back Julian Rios said. “We couldn’t bounce back from those mistakes. They just kept blitzing and our linemen couldn’t figure out which gaps to fill, and it just went down-hill.”
Rios, who finished with 103 yards on the ground, scored the lone touchdown for ACC, finding the end zone with 8:38 to go in the fourth quarter. It was too little too late as ACC’s other second-half offensive possessions ended in a fumble, an interception and a pair of punts.
“We moved the ball early but we turned the ball over and you can’t do that against good teams in the playoffs,” Casey said. “It was just very uncharacteristic of us. We had a snap over our head, which you just can’t have.”