They needed that.
Aurora Central was facing a must win Friday to get into the playoffs, and scatback Brandon Babler made sure it happened.
There was no stopping him as he led his team to a 49-28 Metro Suburban Conference win over Wheaton Academy with four touchdowns — two on pass receptions and two on returns.
“We knew we had to play fast, we had to play urgently,” Charger coach Brian Casey said. “I don’t think you can get a lot better start than that, 12 seconds into the game.”
That’s how long it took for Babler, a 6-0, 165-pound senior, to take the opening kickoff 87 yards on the field turf for a score at the Warriors’ new stadium.
ACC (6-3, 2-3) was off and running, bolting to a 21-0 lead on the strength of TD passes of 28 yards to Babler and 32 yards to Colin Baillie from quarterback Matt Rahn.
While Wheaton Academy (5-4, 1-4) battled back to within 21-14 with a pair of second-quarter scores after long drives, Rahn boosted the advantage to 28-14 with a 1-yard scoring plunge as time ran out in the half.
The senior quarterback finished 9-of-10 passing for 181 yards and three scores, but this night belonged to Babler.
A Warrior fumble on the opening drive of the third quarter led to an ACC score on a 21-yard TD run from Roman Padilla. The Charger defense forced a punt and Babler was working his magic again.
With several assistant coaches yelling for him to fair catch the punt that drove him back to the ACC 9, Babler caught it, feinted to his right then took off left. Clearing a mass of humanity in the middle of the field, he went 91 yards for a score.
“Everyone started blocking and did their jobs,” Babler said. “They did all the work. I just ran the ball.
“Coach (Casey) called it all week. He kept talking about special teams, saying we were going to run back a punt. I don’t think he planned on a kick return, though.”
Later in the quarter Babler, who lines up in the backfield, slot and out wide on offense, hauled in another pass on a drag route that went for a 46-yard TD. He finished with 307 all-purpose yards — 178 on the returns, 113 for four receptions and 16 on four runs.
“I have no problem saying this,” Casey said, casting his vote. “(Babler) is the area player of the year. Batavia has a great team, Geneva has a great team. But take Brandon Babler off this team and I’ll let you figure out where we’re at without his 17 or 18 touchdowns.”
The Chargers will be making their third straight playoff appearance, which Casey said wouldn’t have happened without Friday’s win.
“Not a chance,” he said of making the playoffs at 5-4 because they have too few playoff points (opponents’ wins).
Wheaton Academy does have a strong chance, finishing with either 39 or 40 playoff points.