Aurora Central Catholic senior Steve Belovich walked off the field trying to fight back tears Friday night.
They were tears of joy.
For the first time since 1997, the Chargers (6-1, 4-1) are headed to the state playoffs after their impressive 55-0 Suburban Christian Conference Gold Division victory over Guerin (1-6, 0-5) at Bob Stewart Field in Aurora.
"I'm speechless right now," said Belovich, a two-way starter at tailback and linebacker. "I'm getting choked up. It's such an emotional thing to know that we turned this program around."
The Chargers made certain there wouldn't be a repeat of last year's disappointing 18-15 Week 6 loss to Guerin by scoring 49 first-half points -- 34 of those points coming during an explosive 10-minute stretch in the second quarter.
Running behind an offensive line anchored by center Joe Cisneros, right guard Mikey Malawski, right tackle Luke Faltz, left guard Izzy Rosa, and left tackle Alec Licar, junior tailbacks Julian Rios (9 carries, 108 yards) and Brian Bohr (10 carries, 98 yards) combined for 6 of the Chargers' 7 first-half touchdowns.
"What our offensive line has done is night and day from where we were last year, and they were pretty good last year," said Chargers coach Brian Casey. "We ran for 2,200 yards last year."
Rios opened the scoring by capping an 11-play, 63-yard drive with a 5-yard TD run. The drive included a crucial short-yardage, fourth-down conversion run by sophomore quarterback Matt Rahn.
After back-to-back encroachment penalties were whistled against the Gators on the PAT try, Rahn burrowed his way into the end zone for the 2-point conversion and an 8-0 lead.
Following a three-and-out defensive series, the Chargers extended their lead to 15-0 on Rahn's nifty 47-yard keeper with 3:24 left in the opening quarter.
The 34-point second period included 3 touchdowns from Bohr (3, 8 and 36 yards) and 2 more from Rios (16, 23), who has scored 6 TDs in his last 2 games after missing the early portion of the season with a sprained ankle.
A running clock was employed throughout the second half, and senior reserve running back Tyler Nelson closed out the scoring with a 3-yard TD run late in the third quarter.
Defensively, Roman Padilla, Alex Cohen, Cisneros, and Rosa each recorded sacks as the Chargers limited the Gators to just 18 yards of total offense and 3 first downs. Guerin, which has been blanked 5 straight times, hasn't scored a point in 21-plus quarters.
Another lengthy streak officially came to an end Friday night as ACC ended its 15-year postseason drought.
"It's great for our kids obviously," said Casey, who now owns a 13-12 record in his third year at the helm. "They deserve this but you earn what you deserve. We needed to come out and we needed to play well from the get-go and earn what we feel is a tremendous accomplishment for our program.
"It's the next step for us."