Up by three touchdowns in the second half, Aurora Christian still had its hands full trying to keep Seneca down.
In a game that had the feel of a last-team-with-the-ball could win, visiting Aurora Christian held off a fourth-quarter Seneca rally to earn a 36-27 victory Saturday in a Class 3A quarterfinal.
Aurora Christian (9-3) moves on to the semifinals to face Stillman Valley (10-2), a 34-20 winner over Winnebago.
“When we went up three touchdowns, they could have laid down,’’ Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe said. “And they didn’t.’’
“I’m extremely proud of our kids’ effort,’’ Seneca coach Ted O’Boyle said. “You couldn’t have asked anything more of these guys.’’
Aurora Christian scored three unanswered touchdowns—a 20-yard reception by Brandon Walgren along with a 1- and 27-yard runs by Legend Smith--to turn a 15-7 first-quarter deficit into a 36-15 lead going into the fourth quarter.
But Bo Taylor (17 carries, 122 yards, two touchdowns), who Beebe called “a nightmare,’’ brought Seneca (9-3) back running mostly from the Wildcat formation.
Taylor went in from a yard out with 10 minutes, 49 seconds left in the game and scrambled away from pressure to throw an 87-yard scoring pass to Ben Barnett to make it 36-27 and rejuvenate the Fighting Irish with 5:36 to play.
In the first quarter, Taylor rambled 74 yards for a touchdown and threw an 18-yard scoring pass to Austin Applebee to give Seneca a 15-7 lead.
“Playoff atmosphere, it was crazy,’’ Taylor said. “Everything moved so much faster than a regular season game, especially with that team. That’s a good team.’’
“It was a very evenly matched game,’’ two-way Seneca lineman Brad Wyss said. “Nobody out-schemed the other guy.’’
After gaining 26 yards on six carries in the first half, Smith rushed for 129 yards on 15 carries after halftime to help consume time.
“Legend carried us in the second half,’’ Aurora Christian quarterback Austin Bray said.
Bray, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior, completed 13 of 25 for 202 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
“It was all right. It could have been better,’’ Bray said of Aurora’s passing attack.
Tackles Jack Burke and Matthew Ward, guards Nathan Wells and Jon Czerwinski and center Tristin Withrow earned praise from Beebe for giving Smith some room when the rain came in the fourth quarter.
“We knew we were going to have to establish a running game because the weather was coming in,’’ Beebe said. “We’ve got a great line and a great running back in Legend.’’
O’Boyle assessed the loss and looked ahead in a quiet Seneca locker room.
“We hurt now, but we’ll look back on the season we had and the scare we put into them, and we’ll have a lot to be proud of,’’ he said.