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Aurora Christian's Noah Robert's forces Sterling Newman Central Catholic quarterback, A.J. Sharp to fumble during fourth quarter action of their semi-final contest on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
It’s safe to say Don Beebe’s prayers, or maybe they were limited to hopes, were answered.
After turning the ball over on interceptions on the first possession in each of his team’s two previous playoff games, the Aurora Christian coach wanted a fast start Saturday against Sterling Newman.
He got it, and then some, in the Eagles’ 41-7 win that sends them back to Champaign Friday to defend their IHSA Class 3A title.
Senior quarterback Ryan McQuade drove the Eagles 80 yards in eight plays on the opening drive, capping it with the first of his four first-half touchdown passes with a strike to senior wideout Cory Windle on a slant route that covered 16 yards.
“We knew we were gonna have to start much quicker than we had the last two weeks,” Beebe said. “Driving down and throwing an interception against a great program like this, we couldn’t do that today.”
Things then went from good to better for ACS on the field turf at Sterling High School, where the game was played.
The Comets’ Tyler Rockwood took the ensuing kickoff at the 5-yard line and ran it out across the 30 but coughed the ball up and it was recovered by Eagles’ kicker Trevor Hills at the hosts’ 37.
Four plays later, McQuade hooked up with Windle again on the same route, only on the other side of the field. This one covered 26 yards and the second of five Hills’ PAT kicks made it 14-0.
“Scoring the first one and then getting the fumble on the kick really lit a fire under us,” said Beebe, whose team would capitalize on five fumble recoveries in the game.
Sterling Newman answered with a 13-play, 69-yard drive for its only score of the game on a 4-yard run by Jake Snow (13 carries, 47 yards).
“They drove down like true champions, but our defense pretty much shut them down after that,” said Beebe, whose team promptly answered with a 54-yard scoring drive set up by his son, Chad’s 31-yard kickoff return.
Chad Beebe capped it, getting free on a nice double move and keeping his feet inbounds as he fell across the sideline on a 14-yard TD grab.
Later in the quarter Chad Beebe hauled in a 19-yard TD pass, making a nice catch by coming back on a sweet throw to his back shoulder by McQuade.
The Comets (12-1) were then driving with time winding under a minute in the half and tried to get back in the game with a trick play from the ACS 23.
Quarterback A.J. Sharp pitched to Dillan Heffelfinger sweeping right, who turned and threw a lateral back toward Sharp flaring out to the left. Junior cornerback M.J. Zepeda, though, was waiting and jumped the route, picking off the lateral and returning what was technically a fumble 64 yards for a score with 24 seconds remaining.
“I knew there wasn’t much time left on the clock so a trick play had to be coming because they had to get it down the field,” said Zepeda, who has had two other interception returns for touchdowns this season.
Aurora Christian (12-1) got 113 rushing yards from Joel Bouagnon, including a 7-yard TD run in the fourth.
“I was worried about No. 23 (Bouagnon) but the quarterback was really tough today,” said Newman coach Mike Papoccia.
“And, defensively, No. 1 (safety/linebacker) Brandon Mayes had two plays that would have gone for big plays but he came out of nowhere (to bat down passes). He was all over the field.
“They play like that, nobody (in 3A) will beat them.”