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Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe called it one of the greatest performances of any football player in program history — Brandon Walgren's game Saturday against IC Catholic in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.
Returning to the field after missing three games to injury, the 6-foot senior receiver moved to the Wildcat set to throw a 74-yard touchdown pass. At safety Walgren returned an interception 98 yards for another score in No. 10 seed Aurora Christian's 24-3 win over No. 7 IC at Lewis Stadium in Elmhurst. The Eagles advanced to face No. 15 Oregon.
Due to wholesale injuries, obvious in a 48-8 loss Oct. 12 at IC, Beebe said some had dismissed the Eagles' run at a third straight Class 3A title. They must be orthopedic physicians because when even close to healthy Aurora Christian (7-3) is hard to top.
"We were all just really pumped, just really ready to go," Walgren said. "We were ready last week and coach didn't let us play. This week we just came out on fire. We were all just ready."
He looked it when after a scoreless first quarter he took center Tristin Withrow's shotgun snap from his own 26-yard line and threw down the left sideline to Noah Hagerty, who'd missed three games with a fractured wrist. Yes, Walgren's pass wobbled, but it got over the head of a Knights defender and Hagerty took it all the way. Nick VanGilse's kick made it 7-0 at 11:40 of the second quarter.
"We just wanted to go out and play like this could have been our last game. We just wanted to make it for another week," said Hagerty, who closed the scoring on a fourth-quarter, 25-yard touchdown pass from Austin Bray, playing for the first time since Week 6.
IC Catholic (6-4) answered on a 36-yard gain to the Eagles' 9-yard line when Clark Brinkman tipped a Jack Copher pass to Rhashaun Epting.
One of the Knights' 11 penalties sent them backward, and IC settled for a 32-yard Copher field goal to trim the deficit to 7-3 with 5:44 before halftime. VanGilse's 34-yard field goal gave Aurora Christian a 10-3 halftime lead.
"We should have punched it in a few times. It just happens where it didn't go our way," Brinkman said.
Aurora Christian had removed the doubt of IC's drubbing a month ago.
"If we can get over the mental thing of 48-8, I think we could be OK," Beebe said. "And I could see it in pregame, these kids had smoke in their nose and they were ready to play."
IC looked ready coming out of halftime, using a 36-yard Randy Leslie run and an 11-yarder by Copher for first-and-goal from the Aurora Christian 10. Four plays later Walgren turned the tide with his 98-yard interception return for a 17-3 lead at 7:21 of the third.
"I just read the play and ended up getting it and I just went, I just went as fast as I could," Walgren said.
"Turnovers kill you and you can't turn the ball over and give them more chances, especially when you're going to put one in," said IC coach Bill Krefft, whose Knights also were eliminated by Aurora Christian last season. "It's like a negative-14 because you don't get yours and then you give them one. The kids played their butts off, there was just some mistakes that were made, and that hurt us."