After facing Montini Catholic, the No. 3 ranked team in the state, in a 52-0 loss Sept. 13, you might think Wheaton Academy would receive a bit of a break for its next game.
The Warriors' opponent seven days later was not exactly a respite from a grueling early season schedule. Wheaton Academy barely had time to catch its breath when it visited two-time defending Class 3A state champion Aurora Christian Friday night. To make matters worse, Friday was the Eagles' homecoming game.
Aurora Christian was everything Wheaton Academy's coaching staff expected, erupting for four touchdowns in the opening 9 minutes and 26 seconds of the first quarter en route to a 52-14 Suburban Christian Conference crossover victory. Throw in a 44-0 loss to unbeaten Westminster High School in Missouri, and the Warriors have played arguably the toughest stretch of games so far of any team in the area.
"Montini and Aurora Christian are two of the best teams in the state," first-year Warriors coach Brad Thornton said. "We knew coming in that these games were going to be very challenging. Even though it isn't reflected in the score tonight, I thought our guys responded to the challenge before them and took some positive steps forward."
Wheaton Academy (1-3 overall, 0-1 Suburban Christian Gold) started the game forcing Aurora Christian (4-0, 1-0) and its potent spread offense into a three-and-out. But when the Warriors fumbled the ensuing punt, the Eagles took quick advantage. A holding penalty negated a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Bray to wide receiver Brandon Walgren, but on the very next play Bray delivered a strike to Walgren again that resulted in a 41-yard touchdown pass a minute and a half into the game.
Less than two minutes later, Bray found 6-foot-2 wideout Noah Roberts in the end zone from three yards out for a 14-0 lead, and the Eagles tacked on two more touchdowns before the quarter ended, capped by another Bray to Walgren connection good for 44 yards and a 28-7 lead. The Warriors' touchdown came on a 32-yard pass from sophomore backup quarterback David Thrasher to junior tight end Marino Costello.
Aurora Christian's dangerous passing attack struck two more times in the second quarter. Bray threw a pass in the flat to Trevor Hills, and the multidimensional junior, who serves as the team's placekicker and outside linebacker, eluded several defenders for a 28-yard score. Bray concluded the first-half outburst by lobbing a 15-yard TD pass to 6-4 tight end Jackson Carpenter with 3:45 left in the second quarter. In all, Bray was 10 of 18 for 235 yards and five touchdowns in the opening 24 minutes and wasn't sacked or pressured.
"We have a good quarterback who can throw it pretty good and has a bunch of 6-2 guys who can go up and catch it," Eagles coach Don Beebe said. "Then (5-8 wideout Noah) Hagerty is the little waterbug who we have to figure out more ways to get him the ball, and we have a big offensive line that protects Austin very well."
The only drama for Aurora Christian in the second half was a 45-yard field goal by Hills that set a new school record. The previous record distance was 43 yards. Hills' kick came against his former team. The junior was the starting placekicker at Wheaton Academy as a freshman before transferring to ACS.
"I've kicked a 56-yarder in practice, and my previous best was 42 yards last year," Hills said. "I was praying to God to give me the strength to do it, and He did."
Down 52-7, Thornton said the Warriors showed a lot of character by continuing to battle the Eagles in the fourth quarter and finding the end zone. Camden Meade, one of three players to play quarterback for Wheaton Academy on Friday, swept around left end for a 52-yard touchdown with 3:10 remaining. The Warriors were without starting signal caller Nathan Lopez, who is week to week with a bone contusion in his throwing shoulder.
"The toughest part of the schedule is behind us," Thornton said. "Walther (Christian) is going to be a good, competitive game for us in our homecoming game next week (Sept. 28)."
While Wheaton's schedule lets up a bit, Aurora Christian enters the most difficult portion of its schedule next week. The Eagles visit Suburban Christian Blue rival St. Francis and all-state running back James Butler, who is being pursued by the University of Illinois and Iowa among others, before tangling with unbeaten Marmion, ICCP and Montini.
"We have four big games in a row," Beebe said. "We went through the same situation last year. James Butler is arguably the best running back in the state. We'll have our hands full dealing with him and St. Francis."