||More Sports||Sign up||School Finder|
Eagles Justin Brothers (44), Noah Roberts (5), Ryan Suttle, and Joel Bouagnon (23) team up to stop Immaculate Conception wide receiver Tim Hipskind after a catch. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Here they go again.
For the third time in four years, Aurora Christian and Winnebago will meet in the playoffs — Saturday at 6 p.m. at ACS — and for the second year in a row the matchup comes in the IHSA Class 3A quarterfinals. In 2009, the Indians ousted the Eagles 28-14 in the first round. Last year, ACS prevailed 48-13.
“I don’t think the kids were worrying about (a possible rematch when the brackets were announced) so much as winning the next game. It just so happens we did that,” said Winnebago coach Mark Helm, whose teams have been to the playoffs in five of his six seasons.
The 9-2 Indians advanced to the third round with a 56-20 shellacking of No. 1 seed and previously undefeated Elmwood-Brimfield with a balanced and diverse attack that would have made the most politically correct youth coach proud. Everybody played and contributed, it appears.
The Indians threw only four passes but completed three of them, all for TDs, including one on a double pass. They had eight different players run the ball, none more than seven times, on the way to gaining 289 rushing yards.
They also scored on an end around, a reverse and a dive play that went for 43 yards.
“We like that because all the pressure isn’t on just one person to make plays,” senior running back Tay Shanklin told the Rockford Register Star.
Helm echoed that sentiment.
“We came into the year with a legitimate five running backs,” he said Monday. “I’ve always believed in rotating the ball and don’t pound it with just one kid. We’ve used a lot of guys. I don’t know that we’ve had one kid with more than 10-12 carries in a game this year.”
Those five Winnebago running backs all have between 42 and 79 carries and each has accounted for between 293 and 691 rushing yards (see chart). Junior QB Ryan Swigart has completed 57 of 106 passes for 1,055 yards and has taken excellent care of the ball, throwing for 14 TDs with just three interceptions.
“This is the time of year that (sharing the ball) pays off. You’re not beat up and continue to be in pretty good health,” said Helm. “Plus, it puts pressure on the defense.”
His Indians finished tied for third in the Big Northern West Conference at 4-2, but beat conference champ Byron 40-21. They lost their season finale to Class 4A playoff team Stillman Valley 47-21, costing them a share of the title with Class 2A playoff team Rockford Lutheran.
“There was a lot of parity in the (two-division) league this year, a lot of good teams,” Helm said. “If one team showed up and one would make mistakes, that would be the difference in the game. If you didn’t show up, you’d lose that night.”
His team, though, is the lone remaining conference team in the playoffs.
He knows his defense will have its hands full with an Aurora Christian attack that is equally capable of running or throwing the football successfully.
“They have a way of getting great athletes every year,” he said. “They’re extremely talented and well-rounded. You can’t key in on any one aspect or the other will hurt you. You’ve gotta play good, sound football. You have to limit turnovers, block and tackle. Of course, that’s the story in every game.”