By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
The Chrisitan Life Eagles came out on the first possession of their IHSA Class 1A playoff game and moved in to Freeport Aquin territory. Penalties stalled that drive and forced a punt.
On the snap, the ball went over the punter’s head, giving the Bulldogs great field position. Shortly after, Aquin quarterback Aiden Chang threw the first of five touchdowns.
On the Eagles’ next possession, the same thing happened. Another touchdown pass from Chang, and Christian Life found themselves in quite a hole.
“That hurt us a lot, those two punts with bad snaps,” Christian Life Head Coach Tony Ambrogio said. “We haven’t punted in quite some time, so it’s something we have to look at. But it hurt, put us in a 16-0 deficit.”
It was an uphill battle from there, as Chang threw for 353 yards as well as the touchdowns as Freeport Aquin rolled to a 44-26 victory to move on to the second round of the playoffs.
Anthony Townsend was Chang’s favorite target on the day, racking up 185 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Dominic DeMichele also caught two touchdowns, while Josh Buisker hauled in touchdown No. 5 from Chang. Dean Sopcic also ran one in for the Bulldogs to top off the scoring.
The story of the game was the Aquin defense, however. They struggled through the season, but against a potent Christian Life offense, they stayed strong as the offense racked up the points.
“We crawled out of it a little bit, cut it to 10 at the half,” Ambrogio said. “It seemed like we just couldn’t turn the corner. They were running that 3-3 stack, and we didn’t face that much this season. We prepped it, but it’s hard to prep that.”
It was a great bend-but-don’t-break performance by the Bulldogs. Eagles quarterback Brady Pond was able to move the ball all day with his legs and his arm, while running back Rodney Quansah bruised his way to a good day.
But when push came to shove, the Bulldogs held tight. They stopped Christian Life on three straight fourth downs deep in Aquin territory in the second half, helping salt the game away.
“We knew we had to get that crease, and we just couldn’t get it,” Ambrogio said. “We did some nice things. But to sustain a drive, we didn’t do as well as we would have liked.”
It was the end of a great turnaround season for Christian Life. After winning only three games in 2012, they won eight games in the regular season this year and finished second in the Northeast Athletic Conference.
They were hoping for their first playoff win in school history. But standing up to one of the state powers in Class 1A and making them sweat was a step in the right direction for a building program.
“That is what we are selling the guys,” Ambrogio said of his players’ effort. “We wanted to win, obviously. But to turn the corner, you have to start somewhere, and we got this far.”
Aquin will travel to take on Lena-Winslow in the second round. Other area teams that advanced include the following:
• Rockford Boylan Catholic remained the only undefeated team in Class 6A, as the top-seeded Titans knocked off conference foe Belvidere North 35-17 in a week 8 rematch. They will have to go on the road to face 9 seed Cary Grove, which used a physical offensive line to run through Rockford Guilford for a 28-17 victory.
• Rockford Lutheran got 353 rushing yards and six touchdowns from James Robinson, as well as a 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Robinson, in a 58-12 win over Chicago North Lawndale in Class 4A. They will face Rochelle, who defeated Chicago Payton 60-16.
• Winnebago moved to 10-0 with a tight 34-25 win over Peru St. Bede. The Indians will now face Kankakee McNamara, a 39-14 winner over Chicago Harper. Stillman Valley will face Erie-Prophetstown after a 29-8 victory over Bloomington Central Catholic. And Oregon knocked off 2 seed Wilmington 22-21 and will now face Aurora Christian.
From the Nov. 6-12, 2013, issue