Aquinas one step from first title
By Matt Gerstner PrepsKC staff writer
Late in the game, St. Thomas Aquinas’ kicker came up big for them. It was not, however, the way it’s traditionally done.
With Shawnee Heights down one point inside the Saints’ 20 and less than 30 seconds remaining, Ethan Meyers intercepted a pass in the endzone to give Aquinas the 42-41 victory and a berth in the Kansas 5A state championship.
“It’s something we’ve been waiting for a long time and I’m just glad we got the chance to prove ourselves,” Meyers said of the win.
Karter Odermann led the Saints’ offense with 230 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, but had to watch from the sidelines with the game on the line.
“No words for it. I was on the ground just trying to find someone to hold on to. I trust the defense to make plays and they do,” he said. “This is the best feeling.”
For head coach Randy Dreiling, who’s no stranger to state championship games, it is a culmination of the radical changes he implemented in his first year at the helm of Aquinas. But he’s certainly not going to let his foot off the gas.
“I’ve never not won a state championship at Aquinas. We haven’t made any progress yet. We may be stepping backwards, who knows? They might fire me if we don’t win next week,” he said with a laugh.
He was not in a laughing mood late in the game despite a strong first half from his offense. The Saints jumped out to a lightning-quick 7-0 lead after recovering a botched opening kickoff and a Karter Odermann two-yard plunge. Shawnee Heights responded with a 49 yard Tony Barksdale touchdown run to tie the game two plays later. Aquinas regained the lead on a four-yard score from Odermann he set up with earlier with a 43-yard scamper.
“We just grinded. The read key was biting and we were getting some great blocks,” Odermann explained.
That lead went up to 14 after the defense recovered a fumble and the offense constructed a seven-play, 39 yard drive, capped off by Ben Ewing’s four-yard score. Kyle Bollig got in on the fun with an eight-yard score and the depleted backfield of Aquinas was clicking on all cylinders.
“Guys have just stepped up. We got some playmakers on this team, and a lot of them,” Odermann said.
Shawnee Heights trimmed the lead on a 45-yard touchdown pass, but Aquinas would take a 35-14 lead into halftime when Odermann rushed in from 11 yards out.
“We just tried to do what we do and run our offense,” Dreiling said. “They switched their fronts in the second half, and for whatever reason we just kept making mistakes. They made some great plays.”
Shawnee Heights tied the game with 14 unanswered points behind Barksdale, who finished with 207 yards and three touchdowns. The Saints got the lead back after a fumble recovery at the six-yard line, and Odermann took it in again to bring the score to 42-35. Aquinas looked to salt the game away, but Odermann fumbled inside the 10. The Thunderbirds hit a 95-yard touchdown pass, but the extra point to tie sailed left.
Shawnee Heights would get another chance to win the game, driving down inside the Saints’ 10-yard line with 17 seconds left. That’s when quarterback Camden Wheatley escaped the rush and threw one to the endzone where Ethan Meyers was waiting.
“I saw him scrambling and I just stopped where my guy was, and he threw it right to me. It couldn’t have been better,” Meyers said.
The Saints draw Bishop Carroll in the state championship, but as always with Dreiling’s teams, he’s focused on doing what they always do.
“We have to enjoy tonight and then go to work like we do everyday,” he said. “We can’t have lapses like we did tonight. It’s just business as usual.”
But he and his players, are, in a word, excited.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic at where these guys are. We believe we can win.”
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