As the high school football playoffs enter the home stretch, it's time to reflect upon the 2012 campaign.
For the first time in 4 years, only one local team remains in contention for a state title heading into this weekend's semifinal round -- Aurora Christian.
It's probably not a big surprise that the defending Class 3A state champion Eagles (11-1) are still alive as they prepare for Saturday afternoon's semifinal clash with unbeaten Sterling Newman Central Catholic (12-0).
Aurora Christian was downright dominant a year ago, averaging 41-plus points per game while becoming the first school from Aurora to win a state football championship with a 34-7 victory over Mt. Carmel in Champaign.
You know what?
This year's team may be even better than the 2011 version that finished 13-1.
Last season, the Eagles amassed 585 points and scored 40 or more points 8 times in 14 games while allowing 20-plus points to be scored against them on 6 occasions.
This season, the Eagles have already scored at least 40 points in 9 of their 12 games. Meanwhile, they've only allowed 3 opponents (Immaculate Conception-twice; Montini) to score 20-plus points against them.
In other words, Aurora Christian averages 4 more points (45.7) and allows 4 fewer points (11.9) than last year's squad.
If the numbers by themselves aren't convincing enough, some recent comments from Eagles coach Don Beebe may further persuade you.
"If you're going to play us man (man-to-man coverage), we're going to throw," said Beebe. "If you're trying to play zone, we're going to run. That is the beauty of this offense unlike any other year that we've had really."
Senior quarterback Ryan McQuade, who has picked up where all-state standout Anthony Maddie (now at Western Michigan) left off last season, has a pair of outstanding targets in wide receivers Chad Beebe and Cory Windle, plus the added bonus of tailback Joel Bouagnon behind him in the offensive backfield.
"We've usually been pretty good at one (area) and not bad in another -- and vice versa," said Beebe. "This year, we're really good at both (running and passing). The combination of Chad and Cory -- those are two all-state wideouts right there."
Like any coach, Beebe will pay attention to this weekend's weather forecast.
But I'm betting he won't worry too much if the conditions in Sterling aren't picture-perfect, either.
"It doesn't matter if it's windy or a muddy field or whatever," said Beebe. "I think we'll fare pretty well under any conditions unlike some years past."
If Aurora Christian principal Bryan Wells' name sounds familiar, it should.
Wells, who also is an offensive assistant coach for the Eagles, spent the previous 14 seasons as Neuqua Valley head football coach, guiding the Wildcats to 8 Class 8A state playoff appearances and an overall record of 71-66.
In an ironic twist of fate, Wells may see some recognizable faces over Thanksgiving weekend at Memorial Stadium.
Fresh from a 23-20 last-second quarterfinal win over Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley will host Chicago-Mt. Carmel (11-1) in Saturday night's 8A semifinals.
Wells' son, Nathan, is a 6-1, 245-pound junior starting right guard for Aurora Christian.
While their seasons may have ended sooner than expected, the future appears to be a very bright one for Batavia, Kaneland, and Marmion.
After compiling their second consecutive 9-0 regular season, coach Dennis Piron's Bulldogs (9-1) will return plenty of experienced talent in 2013. The list includes QB Micah Coffey, RBs Anthony Thielk and Anthony Scaccia, WR/CB Mike Moffatt, TE/DE James Millette, CBs Rourke Mullins and Vinnie Cerezo, and OT Sebastian Vermaas.
Kaneland (10-1) also completed its second straight unblemished regular season before falling to Lincoln-Way West in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Coach Tom Fedderly's team will welcome back a horde of talent in 2013, beginning with 3-year starting QB Drew David, RB/S Jesse Balluff, CB/WR Dylan Nauert, OL Alex Snyder, and PK Matt Rodriguez.
Marmion (4-5) was kept out of the playoff picture for the first time in 4 seasons but should be able to make a quick rebound in 2013, thanks in part to the return of QB Brock Krueger, WR Seth Sevenich, DB/WR Tyler Eberth, RB/LB Mike Montalbano, PK Eddy Graham, and junior RB Jordan Glasgow.
Left for dead at 1-5 after Week 6, coach Dan Thorpe's Cadets showed great character by winning its last 3 games by a combined margin of 104-20.
In addition to the above-mentioned names, other skilled position players who will be back next season include Aurora Central Catholic QB Matt Rahn, RB Julian Rios, RB Brian Bohr; Geneva QB Daniel Santacaterina, WR Pace Temple, RB Joseph Boenzi, WR Kyle Brown; St. Charles East WR Brannon Barry, QB Jimmy Mitchell, WR/KR Mitch Munroe; and St. Charles North RB Evan Kurtz, TE Garrett Johnson, and QB Erik Miller.
Tough act to follow
On a personal note, I would like to wish St. Charles North's Mark Gould the best of luck on his retirement following the 2012-13 school year.
Gould, the North Stars' first head football coach, guided the team to a 63-56 record and 8 postseason appearances (2002-2009) in 12 varsity seasons.
Gould is a class act who has always made my job a little bit easier.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org