If there's one thing Aurora Christian hasn't done much of during its back-to-back Class 3A state championship runs, it's win ugly.
It's been pretty smooth sailing for the Eagles against the best of the rest in 3A, winning 11 of their last 12 playoff games by 13 or more points.
Aurora Christian's 13th straight playoff win, however, was anything but easy. The Eagles had to overcome 2 fumbles, an interception, 10 penalties and a 15-7 deficit after the first quarter Saturday in the Class 3A quarterfinals at Seneca.
But Aurora Christian did just that. Quarterback Austin Bray threw three touchdowns, Legend Smith ran for two scores and Seneca made several critical errors of its own as the Eagles left town with a 36-27 win and a spot in next week's state semifinals.
"I thought we did a decent job today. We could have done a lot better," is how Bray accessed his day after going 13 for 28 for 202 yards. We'll keep practicing and fix a few things and get a lot better at it."
No. 10 seed Aurora Christian (9-3) will host Stillman Valley -- who upset 11-0 Winnebago 34-20 on Saturday -- in the semifinals while No. 6 Seneca ends its season at 9-3.
Seneca took a 15-7 lead after one quarter before the Eagles outscored them 29-0 over the second and third quarters. That put Aurora Christian ahead 36-15 going to the fourth and provided enough cushion to withstand two Seneca fourth quarter touchdowns.
"We didn't play very smart in the first half," Eagles coach Don Beebe said. "We played dumb football. You can say the elements or whatever, who cares? It's football. We have to be smarter with the ball. We have to be smarter on the offensive line and pick up the blitz. We didn't do that very well."
For all the Eagles mistakes, Seneca made its share. The Fighting Irish turned the ball over four times and were penalized 9 times -- the teams combined for 7 turnovers and 19 penalties.
Even when the Fighting Irish rallied in the fourth quarter for two touchdowns, they missed the kick on both point-after attempts. That meant when they got the ball back with two minutes to go instead of being 7 or 8 points behind and driving to force overtime, they were still 9 points back. Jon Czerwinski put the final nail in Seneca's coffin with an interception.
"They were a great team and did a really good job," Bray said. "Next time if we get in this situation again we need to make sure we close out."
Bray threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Noah Hagerty to open the scoring. Seneca quarterback Bo Taylor -- who trains with Beebe at House of Speed -- started his big day with a 74-yard touchdown run, then kept the ball on a 2-point conversion run for an 8-7 lead.
Taylor tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass on a 4th-and-8 play to give Seneca a 15-7 lead -- a rare position for the Eagles to be in.
"We told them these guys have to come down to our place, they aren't playing on turf, they aren't in their comfort zone," Seneca coach Ted O'Boyle said. "When you play with a lot of heart and desire you can do a lot of things."
Bray hit Brandon Walgren (9 catches, 173 yards) on a 20-yard slant, then found Dustin Barrett on the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 15. That set the stage for the turning point in the game just before halftime.
Seneca recovered a Bray fumble deep in Eagles territory only to fumble the ball back two plays later, recovered by Czerwinski, at the Eagles' 10-yard line with 1:21 left in the first half.
Ninety yards away from the end zone and with 1 timeout left, the Eagles could have run the clock out. Instead, Smith scored on 4th-and-goal at the 1 with 6 seconds remaining to give the Eagles a 22-15 halftime lead -- a 14-point swing.
"That's huge. that touchdown really hurt momentum," O'Boyle said. "I thought we had them on their heels just a tad. But that's what they do. They hit you with big plays. When you get one guy out of position that's what happens."
Of the several key plays on the 90-yard drive, it opened with Bray nearly sacked in the end zone for a safety. Instead, the Irish were called for a face mask. Moments later, Bray lofted a deep ball to Walgren for 45 yards to the 1-yard line.
"One thing about our offense is we are explosive," Beebe said. "We have some kids who can make big plays including the quarterback. We're a big play offense. That thought (playing conservative) never crossed my mind. My thought was we have kids who can make plays, we're going to put the ball in those kids' hands, we're going to try to score."
After throwing for 182 yards in the first half, the Eagles completed just two passes in the second. Instead, the ground game came alive with Smith finishing with 164 rushing yards including a 27-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Bray also fired a touchdown pass to Barrett to make it 36-15 after three quarters.
Taylor did all he could to bring the Irish back, scoring on a 2-yard run and escaping heavy pressure to complete an 88-yard touchdown to Ben Barnett.
"Bo is a special athlete and he can do a lot of things," O'Boyle said. "He got to showcase a lot of that today and I'm happy for him. He's definitely a kid that will be playing on Saturdays."
Taylor finished 8 of 13 passing for 193 yards and 2 TDs and ran for 127 yards and 2 more touchdowns. He also was everywhere on defense giving the Eagles fits.
"That kid was all over the field," Beebe said. "We could not block that kid. That was frustrating for me. That is something we have to look at film and fix."