People consider Aurora Christian a favorite for a Class 3A state football title because of offense, not defense.
The Eagles' "D," twice standing firm inside its own 10-yard line, earned respect Saturday.
Add 516 yards of offense and No. 1 seed Aurora Christian beat No. 8 Kewanee 35-8 in Aurora.
"We're a big-play offense and early on we just didn't have any breaks going for us," said Eagles senior linebacker Mitch Holtz. "We were just thinking, hey, they're going to come, we've just got to hold them out while we can."
Aurora Christian (9-1) did have a couple breaks actually just the routine, Chad Beebe's 55-yard touchdown reception and Cory Windle's 72-yarder on successive second-quarter passes by Anthony Maddie.
It could have been 14-14 early in the third quarter were it not for Aurora Christian's defense.
Kewanee (5-5), led offensively by program rushing leader Dontae Pryor, receiver Alfeye Taylor and quarterback Jake Scott, followed Windle's post-pattern touchdown by driving to Aurora Christian's 2-yard line.
A penalty backed the Boilermakers to the 7, and on second-and-goal junior free safety Brandon Mayes intercepted a pass at his 4-yard line and returned it 56 yards before Scott forced him out of bounds.
"I was pretty mad that I didn't beat him but it's a turnover, we got the ball back, put the ball in our offense's hands. That's what we want to do, because Anthony Maddie, great quarterback," said Mayes, who credited defensive linemen Jonah Walker, Josh Kok and Nick Larson and inside linebackers Holtz, Roman Czerwinski, and Kenny McCracken for cleaning up the trenches. Outside linebacker Ryan McQuade intercepted a pass as well.
"Game plan right there get the ball in the offense's hands," Mayes said.
Maddie had an apparent 28-yard touchdown run negated by penalty just before halftime. When the teams returned Kewanee again tested Aurora Christian's defensive resolve.
Ryan Matuszyk's interception and 38-yard return had the Boilermakers at the Aurora Christian 9. They were third-and-goal from the 1 when Holtz and McCracken stopped Pryor dead. On fourth down from the 1 Pryor went up the gut. Holtz was there again.
"I was just eyes on the fullback (Alphonso Inocencio) and I knew he would take me to the tailback and I just watched him," Holtz said. "He took me to the play and Brandon (Mayes) came up behind me and me and him were on that big tackle on third down. That's what it took."
Shortly thereafter Kewanee's Ethan Washburn sacked Maddie for a safety, but that's a poor substitute for two touchdowns left on the field.
"When you get down inside the red zone and then inside the 5 or inside the 1, you've just got to get down and get dirty and get it in," said Boilermakers coach Chris Waca. "Give Aurora Christian a lot of credit. They kept us out at the times that they needed to keep us out."
Maddie broke a quarterback draw 87 yards for a 21-2 lead at 4:40 of the third quarter. He ran for 157 yards and threw for 327.
Kewanee used an Inocencio interception to make it 21-8 on a 2-yard run by Pryor, who ran 27 times for 96 yards but only 8 after halftime.
Beebe, who caught 10 passes for 160 yards, scored his second touchdown on a 3-yard catch. Holtz put it away with a 50-yard interception return for touchdown with 5:11 left. "The defense won the football game," said Eagles coach Don Beebe, onward to second-round host and No. 5 seed Oregon, a 28-6 winner over Watseka on Friday.
"Yeah, we made some big plays on offense and it was great, and that's what we do," he said. "But we turn the ball over too many times in the playoffs, and we were fortunate to win the way we won. In my mind it should have been bigger."