CHAMPAIGN This is one for the ages.
Aurora Christian became the first school from Aurora to win a state football title, beating downstate Mt. Carmel 34-7 in the Class 3A championship game at the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium.
Eagles quarterback Anthony Maddie ran for 192 yards and 3 touchdowns and passed for 2 touchdowns. The Eagles defense intercepted Mt. Carmel 3 times in the second half of what coach Don Beebe said was a landmark victory.
"Any time you're the first to do something in history, that's big because no matter what, for the next 20, 30, 50 years people will reflect back on who was the first, because nobody remembers the second and third," he said.
"Everybody remembers the first. So this 2011 team will go down in history of Aurora, being the first team. And they really, really wanted that."
Against Mt. Carmel, a traditional running team, Aurora Christian (13-1) displayed a great marriage of offense and defense.
While Mt. Carmel (12-2) ran for 215 yards, Aurora Christian was inevitably able to force the long-yardage situations that played into its hands. Beebe credited his brother, Dave, the Eagles' defensive coordinator.
"Early in our careers in coaching we struggled in stopping the Wing-T and these tight offenses," Don Beebe said. "But we himself has really done a lot of homework.
"We call him Vince," Don said, referring to Lombardi. "He's a nut, he's a nutcase. He can't watch enough film, he doesn't sleep. I've got to give it to my brother, Dave. He's pulled out a lot of games. And certainly this one maybe tops it all."
Aurora Christian wasted little time getting on the board. After a 7-yard pass to Cory Windle and an incompletion to Windle, Maddie lined up behind center and broke off left guard Eric Motosi into daylight. Beebe said Maddie audibled to the play.
The Western Michigan recruit outran pursuit for a 72-yard touchdown. Mt. Carmel's Dallas Cook blocked the extra point kick for an Eagles 6-0 lead just 22 seconds into the game.
"Really it was just a draw play," Maddie said. "It was third-and-short, we were just trying to get yards. I saw an opening. They went to a front that we hadn't seen and we just tried to take advantage of it, get a couple more yards. Big plays like that happen all the time, just trying to get a couple yards, get the first down, sustain a drive. Then it opens up."
On Aurora Christian's third possession the Eagles drove 87 yards in 3:17 to score. Brandon Mayes reeled off a 25-yard run and Don Beebe called a flea flicker: Maddie tossed a lateral to Grayson Roberts, who used his passing background to hit younger brother Noel for a 25-yard gain to Mt. Carmel's 13-yard line.
That led to Maddie's 6-yard touchdown pass to Cory Windle, an out pattern to the right, for a touchdown. Maddie threw to Grayson Roberts for a 2-point conversion and 14-0 lead with 3 minutes left in the first quarter.
"We were struggling to score later in the first half and early in the second half," Maddie said. "So getting those first two scores, especially against the wind, that was big for our team. And that had to last us a long time."
That's because Mt. Carmel's misdirection ground game moved the ball downfield on successive possessions twice before stalling in the redzone.
Mayes, Ryan Suttle and Julian Sosa stopped Mt. Carmel's Nathaniel Wagner at the Eagles' 3-yard line to end one series. On the Aces' next possession Maddie himself, playing safety, made the hit on Pete Condol at the Eagles' 3-yard line with 8 seconds left before halftime.
Maddie took a knee on offense and went into the locker room with the Eagles up 14-0.
"When you get inside the 10-yard line you feel like you've got to take advantage of those situations," said Mt. Carmel coach Darren Peach, now 0-3 in title-game efforts. "Still, going in at halftime we felt like, hey, it's 14-nothing but we're feeling pretty good defensively because they get the sneak when we wound up in the wrong defensive front. So we felt like we'd only really only given up one score."
To start the third quarter Aurora Christian suffered the same plight as Peach's squad. The Eagles flew downfield on their first possession until Levi Laws intercepted Maddie at Mt. Carmel's 5-yard line.
Mt. Carmel again drove back the other way until on fourth-and-6 at Aurora Christian's 42, Mayes picked off quarterback Sheldon Hannah.
It was the first of three straight interceptions by Aurora Christian Mayes, Cody Slamans and Suttle which finally led to points when Maddie completed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Noel Roberts for a 21-0 lead at 8:47 of the fourth quarter.
"Our guys played a lot of 7-on-7s this year and they've been used to playing the pass," said two-way lineman Josh Kok. "They just knew what to do when the ball was up, and they picked it off."
Suttle said: "We knew where we had to be, we knew everything. Great defense. I don't know if they were used to throwing that much. But we made them throw and it worked out for us."
Maddie increased the lead to 28-0 with 6:49 to play on a 4-yard run and Julian Sosa's kick.
Mt. Carmel led by Wagner's 75 yards rushing and 69 from all-stater Cook broke the shutout on Wagner's 20-yard touchdown run, but Aurora Christian tacked on the final score on Maddie's 29-yard jaunt.
Beebe's hope was to have injured Eagles Mitch Holtz and R.J. Morris line up for the final kneel-down. Maddie's score changed that, so instead Beebe sent the two seniors out for the extra point, when Maddie knelt on the turf.
"Just that they were able to do that for me means the world," Holtz said.
Mayes, who led Aurora Christian with 12 tackles to Sosa's 11, said, "Our coach just made it clear to us and we made it a priority to get them back here so they could get back on the field and play, or at least dress, and go out there for one more play. It's their senior year. We just did it, and I thank God for it."
Beebe put this victory even above his Super Bowl win as a receiver for the Green Bay Packers.
"Some may say, 'Oh, come on, man, a Super Bowl ring, really, one billion people are watching?'
"You know what, I'll be honest with you," Beebe said. "It's the purest of form, high school. It's the purest of form and it is the most gratifying to be able to achieve this with innocents, and kids that are just awesome to be around. And that in itself is the greatest feeling I could have."