ELMHURST – Brandon Walgren picked a good time to have the game of his life.
The Aurora Christian senior threw a touchdown pass, returned an interception for a touchdown and had three key tackles for losses from his safety position in the Eagles’ 24-3 victory over IC Catholic Prep on Saturday in a first-round, Class 3A playoff game at Lewis Field.
“It’ll go down as one of the great performances in Aurora Christian history by one player,” Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe said. “What can you say? He ran the ball well, he caught the ball well, he threw the ball well, and he tackled well. I mean, this kid was all over the field.”
Walgren was in the right place at the right time to make the single biggest play of the game early in the third quarter. Trailing 10-3, the Knights (6-4) took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove inside the Aurora Christian 5-yard line. On third-and-goal at the 3, Walgren tackled Randy Leslie in the backfield for a loss of 3. IC Catholic coach Bill Krefft elected to go for it on fourth down, but Walgren intercepted Jack Copher’s pass attempt and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown.
“They were fourth-and-goal, and I was expecting the pass,” Walgren said. “It came, and I was right there. I just ran it and just went [the distance].”
Instead of potentially tying the game at 10, the Knights suddenly found themselves in a two-touchdown hole.
“That was the play of the game,” Beebe said. “That was a big one because they were driving. They were going to make it a pretty good game, and who knows then?”
Junior Austin Bray returned to start at quarterback for the Eagles (7-3) after missing three-plus games due to injury. He looked a little rusty early, hitting on just two of his first five passes for five yards and throwing an interception. So Beebe decided to shake things up in the second quarter by going to the Wildcat formation with Walgren taking the snaps.
Walgren ran for a short gain on a first-down play, then on second down he appeared to be looking to run again, but instead dropped back and hit Noah Hagerty down the left sideline for a 74-yard touchdown.
“Basically I just go out to the corner and kind of lull them to sleep and then go right by them,” Hagerty said. “He just throws it up. That was our new Wildcat formation. We just introduced it this week.”
Hagerty also caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Bray early in the fourth quarter to seal the victory, which avenged a 48-6 loss three weeks earlier on the same field, when the Eagles were missing a host of starters due to injury.
“This is a situation that I’ve never experienced before as a coach or as a player with all these injuries, not knowing who‘s going,” Beebe said. “It’s just chaos in practice.”
Walgren was one of the Aurora Christian players who missed that earlier contest.
“We were missing eight starters -–seven on the defensive side of the ball,” Walgren noted. “It’s just big having us all back. We just played physical. It’s playoffs now and we just want it. Every single one of us wants it.”
The Eagles bent, but did not break defensively. IC Catholic Prep totaled 281 yards of offense, with Leslie gaining 112 of those on 23 carries.
Beebe credited defensive lineman Jonah Walker with playing a big part in shutting down the Knights in the second half despite playing with an injured shoulder.
Shoulder problems continued to plague the Eagles Saturday, as defensive end Jackson Carpenter left the game late with an apparent right shoulder injury.
Aurora Christian had 307 total yards. Running back Legend Smith gained 71 yards rushing on 13 carries. Bray was 8-for-16 passing for 117 yards. Two of those receptions were by Walgren, who also rushed for 39 yards on seven carries.