ELMHURST – As the cliched saying goes, it’s hard to beat a good team twice.
In one sense, it proved true because IC Catholic couldn’t repeat its regular season win over Aurora Christian in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs on Saturday. However, Aurora Christian was such a different team from the Week 7 meeting that it’s hard to say they were the same team.
The Eagles, revitalized and well-rested after the return of several starters, ended IC’s season with a 24-3 win in Elmhurst.
AC had been without quarterback Austin Bray since he got injured in a Week 6 loss to Marmion, and a handful of other starters missed the final three games of the regular season.
Brandon Walgren had the big plays for the Eagles. IC had a fourth-and-goal on the AC 6-yard line trailing 10-3, but Walgren solidified Aurora Christian’s lead with an interception and 97-yard return for a touchdown to turn the game around early in the third quarter.
Instead of possibly being in a tie game, IC trailed by 14. The Knights didn’t score again.
Walgren, who was one of several Eagles’ players to miss the Knights’ 48-6 regular season win, also passed for a score and had three tackles for loss.
It marks the second year in a row that IC has fallen to AC in the playoffs. Last year, the Eagles beat the Knights 28-21 in the second round en route to a second consecutive 3A state title.
IC finished the season 6-4. The Knights won the Suburban Christian Gold title and made the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
Senior quarterback Jack Copher passed for 1,494 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was also the team’s second leading rusher with 413 yards and two more scores. Sophomore Rhashaun Epting, who at the beginning of the season was splitting time with Copher at quarterback, could have the inside track to start next year.
Randy Leslie crossed the 1,000-yard mark in the playoff loss and finished the season with 1,022 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Freshman Jordan Rowell could take over for the senior Leslie next fall. Rowell had 540 yards on 57 carries and five rushing scores.
Leading receivers Clark Brinkman, Sean Sutton and Sam Rose will graduate.
Defensively, leading tacklers Sam Symeonides (121 tackles) and Riley Ricobene (101 tackles) will also depart. Symeonides had a standout season with 28 tackles for loss.
Aurora Christian 24, IC Catholic 3
Passing: Jack Copher 11-for-23, 175 yards
Rushing: Randy Leslie 19-101; Copher 16-17
Receiving: Sean Sutton 4-77; Leslie 5-41