Class 3A state semifinal, (5) Stillman Valley (10-2) at (10) Aurora Christian (9-3), 5 p.m. Saturday
Last week: Stillman Valley beat Winnebago, 34-20; Aurora Christian beat Seneca, 36-27.
The skinny: Aurora Christian has encountered many a hard-hitting opponent from north-central Illinois in recent postseasons, and the Eagles have generally found the formula to avoid being bullied. Boasting rugged defensive linemen such as Jonah Walker and Jack Burke certainly help that cause, even without the services of out-for-the-year D-end Jackson Carpenter (re-injured during first round of playoffs). Aurora Christian’s Brandon Walgren (33 catches for 723 yards, 10 touchdowns) continues to have a dynamite playoff run on both sides of the ball, though coach Don Beebe said Noah Roberts’ return to health should help relieve some pressure from Walgren. A third straight Class 3A state title berth would have to be earned against the Cardinals, Beebe said. “They do all the things fundamentally great programs do, and that’s Stillman in a nutshell,” Beebe said. The Cardinals advanced to Saturday’s semifinal after avenging one of their regular season losses last week, turning the tables on top-seeded and previously undefeated Winnebago. Stillman Valley fullback Zac Hare reportedly rushed for 228 yards and four TDs in the win. “He’s a 6-3, 230-pound kid,” Beebe said of Hare. “That’s a big boy going downhill, so we’ve got to be able to neutralize or at least limit him and not let him run wild.” The Cardinals started the season 7-0 before falling to 4A semifinalist Rockford Lutheran in Week 8, 33-28, then losing to Winnebago in the regular season finale.
Extra point: The winner advances to the 3A state championship game at 4 p.m. Nov. 29 at Huskie Stadium against either Greenville (12-0) or St. Joseph-Ogden (10-2).
Playoff trivia: In Stillman Valley coach Mike Lalor’s 15 years with the Cardinals, Stillman has won four state championships. The Cardinals were a Class 4A playoff team last year before dropping to 3A this season.
- Jay Schwab, email@example.com