One. And. Done.
The finality of which a first-round playoff loss ends a high school football season can be harsh. It’s never easy and Brian Casey knows it well, too darn well.
Forty-eight hours later, however, the Aurora Central Catholic coach was able to put his team’s third straight such exit — Saturday’s 42-39 loss to Johnsburg — in some perspective. But it was still painful.
“It’s tough,” he said. “We got down early, but we were battling the whole game.”
So true, even though the Chargers’ prospects took a serious hit right before halftime with the Skyhawks leading 21-12.
“There were about 17 seconds left in the half when Brandon Babler went down with an ankle injury,” Casey said. “He was pretty emotional, telling me he was sorry. But it certainly wasn’t his fault. He couldn’t put any weight on it.”
He was going to have it checked again on Monday.
Babler, who had scored both Charger TDs on passes from quarterback Matt Rahn that covered 27 and 32 yards, could not return.
Those gave him a team-high 20 TDs for a season in which he finished with nearly 1,500 all-purpose yards, including 427 rushing, 536 receiving, 338 on kick returns and 136 on punt returns. He scored six TDs rushing, 10 receiving, two on kick returns, one on a punt and one on an interception.
ACC fans and his teammates were well aware of that.
“I’ve gone to movies before where I was the only person in the theater and I’ve never heard a public venue as quiet as that was when he got hurt,” Casey said. “Then, we missed a field goal right after that.”
Halftime, of course, could have been a maudlin affair.
“You lose your most productive player,” Casey said. “Just the look on the kids’ faces and their body language. You would have thought we were losing 55-12.”
Casey knew, though, that his program had come a long way with this, his third straight playoff team.
“I challenged them at halftime and they responded,” he said. “Two years ago (in the playoffs) we couldn’t get a stop on defense. Last year, there were a couple spots here and there we struggled.”
This time? Different.
The Chargers trailed 28-12 and 35-20 before it turned. ACC proceeded to score three straight times — on Rahn’s 12-yard pass to Colin Baillie and Rahn’s scoring runs of 5 and 3 yards — coming all the way back to take a 39-35 lead with 6:03 left in the game.
Baillie was playing on a tweaked ankle. Rahn, who missed a playoff start as a sophomore due to mono and all of last season with a torn ACL, was having the game of his life in completing 35 of 45 passes for 384 yards. Baillie, with a school-record 12 receptions for 120 yards, and unsung receivers Jake Staudacher (eight catches, 77 yards) and Sean Tobin (four catches, 66 yards) all stepped up.
Defensively, Sam Keilty was in on 15 tackles and forced two fumbles. Ben Ariano (11 tackles) recovered those fumbles and had an interception.
“To come back and hold the lead with 5:30 to go was almost unbelievable,” Casey said. “I know it’s cliché to say they left it on the field, but that’s what they did.”
Unfortunately, Johnsburg wasn’t done. They got the final score they needed and picked off Rahn’s last pass to seal it.
“You don’t get to be 9-1 (which Johnsburg is) without being able to make some plays,” Casey conceded.