Having not won a game by fewer than 27 points this year, the No. 1 ranked team in Class 3A Aurora Christian found itself in an unusual position at halftime at Marmion Friday night.
Playing in front of a homecoming crowd, the Cadets rode a 78-yard touchdown run by quarterback Charlie Faunce and interceptions from Tyler Eberth and Sam Breen to a 7-6 halftime lead.
That might be enough for some coaches to see their 5-0 team on the short end of the score to a 1-4 opponent, but the Eagles' Don Beebe took the opposite approach to chewing out his team.
"The first sentence out of my mouth was, 'Guys we're fine,'" said Beebe. "I was very calm and I said, 'Guys, we are playing good football, we are moving the football, we throw an interception in the red zone and it could have been 21-7 at halftime."
Aurora Christian was indeed just fine. They scored 18 unanswered third-quarter points on its way to outscoring Marmion 32-7 in the second half for a 38-14 victory.
The Eagles (6-0, 4-0) won their second straight over a school about twice their size following last week's victory over St. Francis. They certainly made a believer out of Marmion (1-5, 1-3) who had throttled Aurora Christian in their most recent meeting two years ago.
"My money is on Aurora Christian for the 3A state championship," Cadets coach Dan Thorpe said. "Because of their physicality, both offensively and defensively. They were more physical than we were. I think they are better than they were a couple years ago because of their defense."
Both defenses highlighted the play in the first half. Eberth delivered a crushing tackle on the opening kickoff, and Breen, Charlie Clohecy and Matt Smith all made tackles for losses while holding the Eagles to a lone second-quarter touchdown.
The difference turned out to be the Eagles maintaining their strong defensive play for four quarters. Jonah Walker led the way with three sacks, Josh Kok added a sack and a tackle for a loss, and Brandon Mayes and Jackson Carpenter both had sacks.
Clinging to the 1-point lead, Marmion went 3-and-out on its first three drives of the third quarter. Eagles quarterback Ryan McQuade shook off those two first-half interceptions by finding Cory Windle for a 35-yard touchdown pass to put the Eagles ahead to stay, 14-7 with 9:16 left in the third quarter.
Windle had dropped a ball that could have gone for a 76-yard touchdown on an option pass from Mayes on the Eagles' first drive of the game. But he overcame that mistake to finish with 5 catches for 127 yards and 2 scores.
"It was great to see him come out of that shell because he's been overshadowed by Joel (Bouagnon) and Brandon and Chad (Beebe) early, and Cory can play. The kid is a player," Beebe said. "I was so proud of him because last year the pressure was on him against Montini and he dropped a wide open post early and then dropped four more. Tonight, I told him, you are a senior now, different attitude. And he just came out and made some great catches."
After a 34-yard field goal by Trevor Hills and Bouagnon's 2-yard touchdown run, Windle caught a 9-yard slant from McQuade for his second touchdown reception and a 31-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"On that option pass you just have to keep your head up because last year I struggled doing that and this year I kept my head up and came back strong," Windle said.
Faunce (113 yards rushing, 137 passing) hit Mike Montalbano on an 80-yard touchdown to finish Marmion's scoring, then the Eagles answered when Ryan Suttle recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran it back 49 yards for a touchdown.
Suttle also caught a first-half touchdown pass. McQuade finished 17 of 26 for 244 yards and 3 touchdowns complemented on the ground by Bouagnon's 124 yards and 89 from Mayes.
Aurora Christian also was 3-for-3 on fourth downs.
"They are 6A, they are in state championship two years ago, that was the best 1-4 team in the state of Illinois," Beebe said of the Cadets.
"We put our defense in short fields (in the third quarter)," Thorpe said. "They (the Eagles) stepped up their intensity. They came out with pride like a state championship team should."