By Jim Bradford PrepsKC Senior Writer
This one lived up to its billing. Boy did it ever.
Blue Valley West and St. Thomas Aquinas came into Friday night’s game at the Blue Valley District Activity Complex riding high with identical 3-0 records.
For close to three hours, the two teams battled to a standstill.
And just when you thought it may never end, Aquinas came up with a stop on a fake field goal to walk away with a 38-35 triple overtime victory. The Saints now stand alone atop the East Kansas League standings.
“I told the guys before the play that they might try something,” said Aquinas coach Mike Thomas. “We only rushed our front line people and had the backside stay back just in case.”
The ploy worked, as the Jaguars holder Zev Mallin took the snap and peeled off to his right. By the time he got to the line, Will McDonald was waiting to catch him by the shoestrings before Dan Morin was there to finish off the tackle and send the Aquinas faithful into a frenzy.
After the two teams both scored touchdowns in the first and second overtimes, the Saints drive to start the third overtime stalled at the 2-yard line.
“We thought about going for a touchdown very briefly,” Thomas said. “But honestly, I have a lot of faith in our defense.”
Thomas opted to send Derek Rodgers out for the 19-yard field goal to put Aquinas up 38-35 and rely on the defense to come up big once West got the ball for their chance to keep the game going or pull out a win.
“I had confidence in Derek that he would come in there and make it easily,” Thomas added.
On their ensuing possession, West got down to the 7-yard line on third down, then misfired on a fade to the corner of the end zone that would have won the game before lining up for a potential game-tying 24-yard field goal.
“How long was it going to go on,” said West coach Scott Wright. “Someone was going to have to pull the trigger at some point.”
Wright was thrilled at how well his team was able to play Friday night, despite coming up short.
“That was a classic football game right there. They just made one more play than we did.”
The Jaguars made things interesting after entering the fourth quarter down 21-7. Aquinas had padded their 14-7 halftime lead with a Nick Williams 9-yard touchdown run with just three minutes gone from the third quarter clock.
The two teams traded punts through the rest of the third quarter before West woke up in the fourth quarter.
After quarterback Ryan Ralston scored on a 6-yard run with nine minutes to play, the Jaguars got one last stop on defense, but ended up starting their game-tying drive at their own 5-yard line.
14 plays and 95 yards later, Ralston lofted a perfect pass up to the right corner of the end zone to Cale McMakin with just 32 seconds to play on a gutsy fourth and-5 play from the Saints 19-yard line.
“Our defense was gassed,” Thomas said. “We were trying to rotate some guys in there to keep them fresh, but it was hard.”
The Jaguars outgained the Saints 394-258, but it was the Saints that came up with the big plays when they needed them and now, they sit alone atop the EKL, a place no one thought they would be.
“We like being the underdog,” Williams said.
“I don’t think anyone except the guys in the lockerroom thought we would (be 4-0),” Thomas added. “That’s just the type of team that they are. It’s definitely a great feeling.”
Ralston was 16-of-30 for 183 yards and one touchdown through the air and had 115 yards on 32 carries and three rushing touchdowns. Conley Wilkins added 96 yards on the ground on 17 carries.
Williams paced the Saints with 78 yards on 18 carries.
Things got interesting in the final two minutes of the first half when Danten Cosentino threw an interception at the Jaguars 20. On the very next play, West’s Ralston gave it right back when Aquinas corner Hunter Swanson picked off the West quarterback and took it back 33 yards to the Jaguars 2-yard line. Three plays later Cole Pickert plunged in from two yards out to put Aquinas up 14-7 at the half.
Both teams scored on their second drive of the night.
Wilkins scored on a 30-yad run with 2:39 left in the first quarter. The run capped a 10-play drive. Aquinas took the kickoff and went 69 yards the other way in 10 plays and 4:27 to tie the score on a Williams 4-yard run.
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