Last week’s second-round playoff opponent for the Aurora Christian football team, Oregon, threw for 29 yards.
Begrudgingly, chasing a big lead, the Hawks attempted six passes Saturday night as Aurora Christian rolled to a 49-20 victory.
That brings the Eagles to this Saturday’s 3A state quarterfinal at Seneca, which blew out host Robeson Saturday in Chicago, 46-6.
And how many passes did the Fighting Irish utilize in that win? Zero.
Welcome to the Class 3A playoffs, where Aurora Christian’s multitiered offense and deluxe passing attack stand out like a sore thumb, or more to the point, like Don Beebe’s Super Bowl ring-adorned finger.
Eagles quarterback Austin Bray threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 pass attempts against an Oregon team that was overwhelmed by Aurora Christian’s penchant for downfield strikes.
Look for Seneca to be similarly confounded about how to slow Bray and Co. this weekend.
The point here isn’t to rag on 3A football, which certainly has it share of quality, hard-nosed athletes and clever coaches.
But Aurora Christian is such an outlier when it comes to teams in that class, it’s not hard to understand why the Eagles have dominated 3A in recent years, and could well three-peat as state champions come Nov. 29 in DeKalb.
It starts with coaching. By now, Beebe and his staff have proven to be terrific strategists, motivators and player developers. And yes, Beebe’s name recognition and reputation as an offensive guru draws some talent to Aurora Christian that a school of its size wouldn’t typically attract.
Then there’s the schedule Aurora Christian plays as part of the Suburban Christian Conference (and soon-to-be-Chicago Catholic League). Battling larger, Chicago area competition such as Montini, Marmion and St. Francis during the course of a season broadens the Eagles in a way that can’t be replicated in the generally rural, small-school conferences from which most of the 3A playoff field hails.
Teams such as Oregon and Seneca don’t like to throw themselves, so their defenses don’t see it much in practice.
And they’re lucky if they face one or two opponents all season with a competent passing attack.
Aurora Christian’s passing game is more than competent.
The Eagles have highly skilled personnel and run routes with precision. For a team that hasn’t dealt with a sophisticated passing game, limiting an offense like the Eagles’ – especially when factoring in a strong running game that also must be accounted for – is quite the assignment.
That’s why Beebe has long maintained, as long as Aurora Christian can win five or six regular season games and make the playoffs, he’ll take his chances.
The Eagles won’t have a cake-walk to a state title. It’d be very surprising to see Seneca take down the Eagles, but undefeated Winnebago could make for a substantial challenge in the semifinals.
Still, with Aurora Christian seemingly getting healthier by the week, forget the seedings. The Eagles have to be considered a favorite to three-peat.
Class 3A teams’ best bet against Aurora Christian this time of year is nasty weather conditions that make success through the air harder to come by.
Whether even an extreme act of nature would be enough to keep the Eagles from another 3A state title this month is up for debate.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.