So often in sports, we hear about how defending a title can be more challenging than winning the first one. St. Thomas Aquinas will test that theory more in 2019, but if Friday night was any example of what’s to come, the EKL and 5A class can prepare for a Saints squad that relishes the target.
Demolishing Blue Valley on the road to the tune of 48-19, Aquinas proved they have plenty of firepower left from a championship season last fall and can find motivation in even the most distant of memories.
“We’ve been preaching all week to come out and play hard because last year they came out on us,” victorious junior running back Tank Young said afterwards. “So we wanted to return the favor.”
By first quarter’s end, the Saints had quickly posted 28 points on the scoreboard and held an upstart Tiger offense to a goose egg. Running their recognizable flexbone offense, junior quarterback Blake Anderson and Young teamed up to wear down the Blue Valley defense on the ground. Each scored on the opening two possessions before Anderson caught the Tigers sleeping with a third score through the air to senior Tommy Carroll.
“Our offensive line is, honestly, pretty good,” described Saints defensive coordinator Chad McKinnis, who was substituting as active head coach on Friday in place of Randy Dreiling. “They get downhill in a hurry and make it even easier for Tank, who’s already a great runner.”
On the opposing side, the Tigers were a team with growing preseason buzz as a possible sleeper in 6A but Friday’s early showing dampened the mood for a packed crowd. The Saints defensive line pressured prized junior quarterback Jake Wolff into costly mistakes, while the secondary blanketed a host of receivers.
Opposite the Saints, it’s a trait head coach Allen Terrell admits his roster has wrestled with all offseason.
“We’ve struggled with this group with intensity to start out,” a disgusted Terrell explained in the loss. “We struggled in team camps and sometime struggle in practices to just come out.”
“How do you walk into a street fight? We talk about that all the time. If you don’t come out ready to deliver the first blow, 28-0 happens.”
Perhaps the lone bright spot for the Tigers was junior running back Chase Jans. A star baseball player for Blue Valley in the spring, Jans flirted with the idea of football a year ago before committing to both this offseason. Rushing for a touchdown and 67-yards on just nine carries, Terrell knows he has another asset to build around if other pieces come together.
“Chase is one of the best athletes in the state of Kansas and I think he’ll get drafted in the Major League Baseball draft,” says Terrell of Jans. “He’s raw and has a lot of things to work on as well, but if you wanted to point at a bright spot that’s one.”
Of course, the true story from the BVDAC revolves around the Saints though. Whether it’s the 384-yards of rushing, compiled largely by starters (like Young) who barely played in the second half, or holding their opponent to 1-for-9 on third-down conversions, Aquinas has a lot to be proud of in Week One.
“We have expectations and Coach Dreiling always preaches about those expectations,” finished McKinnis. “We’ve developed a culture and a plan here.”
For Blue Valley, the plan is still in a state of construction.
“I questioned our toughness tonight,” said Terrell. “Not as individuals, but in confidence. They have to believe that they’re tougher.”
“It’s never as bad as it seems and it’s never as good as it seems, but I have a feeling when I watch the film it’s going to be pretty stinking bad. That has a lot to do with St. Thomas Aquinas.”