By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
Galena, Lena-Winslow and Freeport Aquin have all won state titles. Stockon appeared in last year’s IHSA Class 1A title game. Forreston has been oh so close, held back by those teams.
This is the reward that awaits the Christian Life Eagles. A No. 2 seed in Class 1A, Christian Life has had an extremely successful regular season. But now the real fun begins.
“We know it’s a tough road,” Christian Life Head Coach Tony Ambrogio said. “Usually, the 1A state champ comes out of this quadrant. So, we have a tough road ahead of us.”
That starts with an explosive Freeport Aquin team in the first round of the playoffs. It will be a home game for the Eagles, but not an easy one.
“We have a tall task in front of us,” Ambrogio said. “ I suppose they’ve been keeping an eye on us through highlights on TV. We’ve seen theirs, and we know they’re explosive.”
The key to the game will be the Eagles’ defense against the Bulldogs’ offense. Christian Life has scored this season, and Aquin has had their issues on defense.
The Christian Life defense, however, has only given up 74 points this season, just more than 8 points per game. An impressive figure, and something they will have to rely on facing an Aquin team that scores 30 points per game.
“They got an awesome passing attack and some really good athletes over there,” Ambrogio said. “We have a lot of work in front of us, and we have to be ready to fight when we play them.”
Where the Eagles sit right now is a far cry from where they sat just a year ago. Christian Life struggled through a three-win season, and really flew under the radar coming into the season.
But quarterback Brady Pond has returned from injury this season to play great football. The Eagles have picked up steam since a competitive loss to open the season against undefeated Ottawa-Marquette, and are on a roll as they enter the playoffs.
“These kids have worked so hard,” Ambrogio said. “These kids are motivated and hungry. I’m excited for them.”
What the coach and players really want is for this to be the next step up, a building block for a program. They do not want this to be a one-time experience in the playoffs for the team.
“I don’t want to be that flash in the pan,” Ambrogio said. “We want to be a consistent winner, and this is the first step to that.”
Elsewhere in the playoffs:
• The NIC-10 season will be extended as we get a rematch of one of the best games of the season. Belvidere North is a 16 seed, and will get a chance to avenge a 34-30 loss to top-seeded Boylan in a game at Boylan. The Titans are the only undefeated team in Class 6A, as they look for their third title in four years. Rockford Guilford was able to score a home game as an 8 seed, hosting perennial power Cary Grove, who is a 9 seed. If the Vikings win, they will get to play the winner of the North and Boylan game.
• In Class 7A, the Rockton Hononegah Indians enter as one of the hottest teams in the state. Unfortunately, two early losses has them as an 8 seed. But that still will get them a home game as they will host Highland Park in the first round. For Machesney Park Harlem, a 6-3 regular season has relegated the Huskies to a 14 seed, leaving them with a tough game against Glenbard West.
• In Class 3A, the Winnebago Indians have earned the top seed and will begin their run to DeKalb at home against 16 seed Peru St. Bede. Fellow Big Northern West Conference mate Stillman Valley enters the playoffs as a 5 seed and will also host their first-round game against Bloomington Central Catholic, the 12th seed. Oregon is the third team from the conference in Class 3A, traveling as the 15 seed to take on second-seeded Wilmington. In Class 4A, Rockford Lutheran is the fourth team to make the playoffs from the conference. They get a disappointing 6 seed after an 8-1 season. They will host North Lawndale in the first round as they look to make a run to DeKalb.
• As of this writing, dates and times have not been announced. All games will be Friday or Saturday. You can check the IHSA website (ihsa.org) for all dates and times for the first-round playoff games.
From the Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 2013, issue