In this season when the words "first time since" have been used frequently in sentences referring to West Aurora football, a new sentence was inaugurated on Friday night: "First conference championship since …"
The year that finishes that sentence is "1983" -- and the 2016 Blackhawks wrote their own names into the history books with a 41-12 victory over visiting Bartlett to claim sole possession of the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division title.
West Aurora led the entire game and ran its record to 8-0 and is finished in conference play with a 5-0 record heading into next week's UEC crossover contest with River Division opponent Geneva.
"It means everything to us," West Aurora coach Nate Eimer said. "Sometimes you can get caught up in where are we going to end up in the playoffs and what our seed is going to be. We need to enjoy these moments. For a long time, let's be honest, when people said 'West Aurora football,' they didn't say much, and they're saying a lot now."
The Blackhawks' offense garners massive attention, with good reason, and once again, West Aurora rolled significant yardage together against Bartlett. But the defense set a tone in a first half in which the offense struggled and after which the hosts only led 20-6.
"Our defense and special teams carried us in the first half," Eimer said. "That's OK because that's going to happen sometimes. I thought Chandler Behrens was everywhere tonight and our D-line was really good early tonight."
That offense did get rolling, and did so on some very big plays. DaVion Cross rushed for 153 yards on just 5 carries. His brother DaQuan Cross added 128 yards on 5 carries of his own. Combined, West Aurora's rushing offense gained 440 yards.
"We talk about the Cross brothers a lot because they're highlighters, but those are some big holes they run through sometimes. We do a good job blocking for them," Eimer said.
DaVion Cross scored a pair of touchdowns on Friday, including an electrifying 80-yard punt return and on a 91-yard run. DaQuan Cross added a touchdown on an 84-yard run.
But not to be overlooked was JaQuan Buchanan, who had 79 yards on 11 carries and added a pair of touchdowns himself, one on a 49-yard run and later on an 11-yard run. Buchanan's first touchdown was the game-opening TD and set the tone for the rest of the contest.
Trevon Tittle scored West Aurora's other touchdown.
For Bartlett (3-5, 2-2), Friday's game means elimination from the playoffs, though the Hawks were in the contest at halftime and only fell out of contention in the contest in the third quarter.
"I thought our kids battled hard for four quarters, Bartlett coach Eric Ilich said. "West Aurora's got some electric kids on their football team and they deserve all the credit. But I'm really proud of our guys for the way they prepared and the way they fought for four quarters."
Bartlett scored on a pair of Joey Daum touchdown passes, one a 21-yard toss to Jason Skrodzki and later a 7-yard pass to Matteo Jones.
Bartlett's workhorse on Friday was Vanshon Lindsey, who gained 161 yards on 33 carries.
"When you take the scoreboard out of it, we played hard tonight," Ilich said. "And Vanshon keeps running tougher and tougher as the year goes on, and that's credit to the guys up front."