North Stars make St. Charles history; Beebe new coach at AU
The excitement level is unmistakable in St. Charles as the North Stars enjoy an unprecedented playoff run.
No. 22 St. Charles North (9-3) became the first football team in city history to advance to a state semifinal with last week's 21-10 victory at No. 14 Wheaton Warrenville South.
The North Stars host No. 7 Mt. Carmel (11-1) on Saturday with a Class 7A title-game berth on the line.
The ubiquitous political yard signs that covered lawns around town a week ago have been replaced by yard signs encouraging neighbors to attend the most important prep football game in St. Charles history.
The signs hang in downtown store fronts, too. "Fans ... We need you!!!" they read. "Come cheer on your SCN football state semifinalists Nov. 17 at 1 p.m. at St. Charles North High School."
In a show of civic support for the North Stars, the beacon atop the City Hall Tower shines blue this week.
"The city has gotten involved now and that's exciting to see," sixth-year North coach Rob Pomazak said. "For me, it's all those little things that you kind of hoped and wished for and imagined would have happened a lot sooner. It has taken six years to get to this point now where we really feel like, wow, it's really a football community. And that's really cool. The best thing has been seeing how the community is rallying around us."
The North Stars face one of the most successful programs in IHSA history. Since 1980, Mt. Carmel has made 16 championship-game appearances and won 12 state titles, most recently in 2013.
"That's the team I grew up watching on Thanksgiving in the nineties," Pomazak said, "but I think for this generation of kids it's a little different. I'm just so excited that we are in a position to play a great program again. I feel great about where we're at, win or lose, but the whole idea is not to be satisfied. You never know when you're going to get back here so we're putting it all in."
Familiar territory: Batavia is a victory away from the title game once again.
No. 4 Batavia (12-0) makes its fourth semifinal appearance under eighth-year coach Dennis Piron on Saturday at 1 p.m.
A win at No. 6 Nazareth Academy (11-1) would allow the Bulldogs to defend their 2017 Class 7A state championship next Saturday in Champaign, the goal all along.
"Our kids have done a remarkable job managing those expectations and competing at the level they have," Piron said. "I'm proud of this group of kids and all the kids that have played here to build something special they can all be a part of. I'll be eternally grateful to be here at this point in time when everything has been aligned just right."
With flying colors: No. 1 Cary-Grove (12-0) has aced some difficult tests ahead of Saturday's 3 p.m. Class 6A semifinal at No. 6 Notre Dame (10-2).
In Week 4, the Trojans went to Huntley and knocked off the 3-0 Red Raiders, a team brimming with confidence after knocking off two-time defending state champion Prairie Ridge the week before.
Cary-Grove fell behind rival Prairie Ridge 14-0 in Week 8 but rallied to win 21-14.
The Trojans scored 55 points in the regular-season finale against DuPage Valley Conference champion Naperville Central, a ranked Class 8A team.
They eliminated defending Class 5A champion Phillips last week, though the Wildcats had elite athletes all over the field.
"Our kids have answered the call every week throughout the year and it doesn't get much bigger than this week," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "We've had a lot of times this year where we've had to really battle in games. I just love how our kids compete and really play as a team."
Don Beebe to coach Aurora: Nine-year NFL receiver Don Beebe will return to the sideline as the next head coach at Aurora University, the school announced Thursday.
Beebe, 53, attended Division III Aurora for one year and played basketball for the Spartans. The Sugar Grove native transferred to Chadron State in Nebraska and was eventually noticed by NFL scouts.
Beebe stepped away from coaching at Aurora Christian after last season following 14 years as either head coach or assistant. The two-time state champion high school coach is ready for a new challenge at the collegiate level.
"I am honored to coach AU football, drawing on my NFL, coaching and training experience and bringing it home where my roots are, where I was born and raised and my family and I still live," Beebe said via release. "I knew mentoring kids was my calling when I retired and sports is my avenue to do that. I care about my players and want to instill in them the importance of never settling for mediocrity. I want our Spartan football players to think big. With hard work and commitment they can and will achieve great things."
Beebe was the first NFL player to appear in six Super Bowls, four with the Buffalo Bills. He won a ring with the 1996 Green Bay Packers.
The new coach replaces Rick Ponx, who was let go earlier this week after five seasons and a 20-30 record. The Spartans finished 5-5 this season.
"Bringing in Don Beebe raises the ceiling quite a bit for recruiting and leading our drive to win conference championships and compete on a national level," Aurora University athletic director Jim Hamad said.
"And while we are thrilled to have an NFL veteran coach our student athletes, it is Don's mentorship on and off the field that gives us the most excitement. Don has led a life of character and integrity and we are confident our students will respond to his guidance. I think the future is brighter than ever for AU athletics."