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Aurora Christian's Cory Windle catches a pass from quarterback Ryan McQuade to put the Eagles up 14-12 with a minute left in the first half during their State Championship game against Tolono Unity at University of Illinois Memorial Stadium in Champaign o
CHAMPAIGN — Anyone who thought Aurora Christian only knew one way to win a football game probably was surprised Friday evening.
With miserable conditions keeping the Eagles’ spread passing attack in check, they turned to a power running game in the Class 3A state championship game against Tolono Unity at Memorial Stadium.
The switch got Aurora Christian rolling en route to a 42-12 victory and its second consecutive state title.
Joel Bouagnon ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns for the Eagles (13-1), while Brandon Mayes rushed for 71 yards and a score. Mayes also ran back an interception 75 yards for a touchdown as Aurora Christian scored three times in the final four minutes to break open a close game.
The Eagles overcame a 12-0 deficit and gusting winds that made life difficult for quarterback Ryan McQuade, who had thrown for 2,913 yards and 42 touchdowns through last week. McQuade did have one big pass, a 28-yarder to Cory Windle for a touchdown that helped put the Eagles ahead to stay 14-12 1:04 before halftime.
After that, the Eagles stayed grounded, getting 148 of their 185 rushing yards after halftime. The strategic change didn’t surprise Mayes.
“As much as coach [Don Beebe] would like to spread it out all the time, I knew [we’d be able to run more] once we got Joel [as a transfer from Burlington Central] — he’s a big-time player,’’ Mayes said. ‘‘He just fit right in. I’m like, ‘Man we’re going to be able to run the ball really [well].”
Beebe was OK with the switch, because it beat the alternative.
“I told our coaches, ‘We have to make some adjustments on offense or we’re going to lose this football game. Let’s get away from this spread stuff, let’s go straight power-I,’” Beebe said. “And it was effective.”
Passing, meanwhile, was not. “It was horrible to throw,” Beebe said. “You have to have a special kid to throw a football in this stuff. ... If you don’t throw a tight spiral, you’re going to struggle.”
Aurora Christian struggled early, going down 12-0 on a pair of touchdown runs by Mitch Negangard (18 yards and one yard) for Unity (12-2).
“We started out very ugly,” Beebe said. “We seemed confused.”
But Mayes scored from 16 yards out on the first play of the second quarter and Windle’s touchdown catch sent the Eagles into halftime ahead.
“Obviously we didn’t play our best football in the first half,” Mayes said. “But we still came out leading in the game.”
Then it was up to Bouagnon, Mayes and the blocking of Tristan Withrow, Eric Motisi, Josh Kok, Nathan Wells and Jackson Carpenter up front.
“We’ve never been this big on the offensive line,” Beebe said. “We have two really good running backs. ... It became very effective because it’s not one back carrying it 25 times, it’s two guys carrying it 13 times [each]. And that’s very hard to defend.”
Bouagnon’s 60-yard scoring dash made it 21-12 with 8:01 left in the game and he added a 10-yard touchdown run at 3:43. Mayes’ interception return at 2:37 and Legend Smith’s 34-yard scoring run with 1:36 left capped the 28-point fourth quarter.
“The thing that makes them so good offensively — they can throw the ball, but when they line up with the two running backs, they can do that, too,” Unity coach Scott Hamilton said.