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Aurora Christian rallies to upset Wilmington
By Dave Heun | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 11/7/2010 1:02 AM

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Aurora Christian opened its Class 3A second-round playoff game against visiting Wilmington like a Mike Tyson in his prime, looking for the quick knockout.

But the Eagles had to hang on like a seasoned champ when this battle ended up going the distance.

The Eagles took a 12-0 lead before anyone even started in on the hot chocolate on a chilly Saturday night, but had to come back in the fourth quarter to score the only touchdown of the second half and secure a thrilling 18-16 victory.

Aurora Christian (7-4) moves into the quarterfinals against Stillman Valley (11-0).

The Eagles followed the feet of quarterback Anthony Maddie, rather than his powerful throwing arm, as the junior signalcaller ran for two touchdowns and 172 cards in 12 carries.

Maddie wasted no time in taking advantage of a Wilmington defense that was giving him an open middle of the field. After faking a sideline pass, Maddie raced 85 yards straight up the middle on the first snap of the game, stunning the Wildcats and sending Eagles fans into a quick frenzy.

"We had that planned pretty much the whole week," Maddie said of his opening score. "We wanted to expose them leaving the middle of he field wide open, and they had no safeties backing them up.

"I knew once I got past that first five yards, it would just be a foot race into the end zone," Maddie said. "It felt good to come out against a team that good, and help my team in that way."

But Aurora Christian had even more immediate help on the ensuing kickoff when the Eagles jarred the ball loose from Zach Skoryi and recovered the fumble at the Wildcat 38.

Four players later, Maddie found Brandon Mayes in the corner of the end zone with a 4-yard scoring toss, and after a two-point pass failed, the Eagles were ahead 12-0 less than two minutes into the game.

Wilmington (10-1) showed why it came into the game undefeated by bouncing back with the next 16 points to take a 16-12 lead at halftime.

The Wildcats struck midway through the first quarter when quarterback Ty Anderson scrambled across the field before finding receiver Garrett Saulters well behind the defense in the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown.

Wilmington crept within two points when Trae Berndt knocked through a 32-yard field goal early in the second quarter, and took their first lead with 1:09 left before halftime when Anderson's 1-yard plunge capped a 77-yard drive that featured eight rushing plays out of a double-wing T formation.

But the Eagles snuffed the Wilmington offense in the second half, setting the stage for their most important drive of the season - a 90-yard masterpiece in which Maddie completed five passes and ran for 51 yards.

Twenty-three of those yards came on one blast up the middle for a touchdown and the 18-16 lead in the opening minute of the final quarter.

Then it was up to the Eagles defense to save the game.

With just under seven minutes remaining, the Wildcats started a key drive on their own 30-yard line. They faced a fourth-and-one at the Eagles' 47 when Kenny McCracken stuffed Wildcat workhorse Steve Liaromatis (22 carries, 118 yards) for no gain.

"We want to thank the press that said our defense couldn't stop them," a relieved Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe said. "We used that as motivation, and our defense won this football game for us, hands down, no doubt."

Eagle linebacker Sam Miller said a week of focusing on stopping the double wing offense paid off.

"It was big for us to come out in the second half and get those stops when we needed to," Miller said. "We faced the double wing against St. Francis a couple of weeks ago, and we went back to the fundamentals and just really worked on stopping it this week in practice."

To seal the victory, the Eagles had to hold off one more desperation drive by Wilmington, which ended when Liaromatis made a diving attempt on a fourth-down pass deep in Eagle territory, but couldn't reach it.

"I am proud to coach against great coaches like Jeff Reents," Beebe said. "Let's face it, Wilmington is one of the best programs in the state at any level and they have dominated for years.

"This is right up there as one of the great wins for our program."

Reents said his team battled hard after the opening minutes had them back on their heels, but he knew the footwork of Maddie doomed his squad.

"My hat's off to the Maddie kid, he was the difference tonight," Reents said. "We had a mix-up on the first play of the game and he took off on us. We thought it would be more of a passing game, but when you are playing a kid that explosive you have to watch him all the time.

"I thought we had them, but my hat's off to coach Beebe and those guys, and I wish Aurora Christian luck the rest of the way."