Aquinas flys past Leavenworth

By Kyle Palmer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: October 29, 2016 - 1:02 AM

Through the air and on the ground, St. Thomas Aquinas rolled to a 39-13 win over Leavenworth in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs Friday night.

The Saints passed for an uncharacteristic 259 yards in the first half, which propelled Aquinas to a 19-0 lead at the break. Then, they turned to their patented flexbone rushing attack in the second half and padded the score with three more touchdowns on the ground, eventually stretching the lead to 39-0.

Saints Coach Randy Dreiling said it made sense to pass early.

“If teams aren’t going to cover the pass, then we’re going to pass. We’re not good enough to not do that,” he said.

Indeed, junior quarterback Will Swanson found his receivers wide open at times. It started on the first play from scrimmage, a 45-yard bomb to Grant Cowley that helped set up the Saints’ first score, a 6-yard run by Drew Hicks.

On Aquinas’ next drive, Swanson had completions of 35 and 29 yards to Tristan Davis. Swanson finished off the nifty nine-play drive with his own 7-yard run. Swanson would later hook up with Davis again for a 47-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter for the Saint’s third score.

Throwing the ball for such big chunks of yardage was a new experience for Swanson.

“Man, I didn’t know I had that many yards, but credit guys for getting open and then doing awesome getting after-catch yards,” he said.

Aquinas’ first half was marred by three turnovers, two near the Leavenworth goal line that killed drives.

“We couldn’t get out of our own way,” Dreiling said. “We need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. But you can’t work on that. If we could, we’d have fixed it a long time ago. But credit Leavenworth for making plays, I thought they played an exceptional first half.”

The problem for the Pioneers was they couldn’t muster enough offense to make it interesting. They punted on their first five possessions. When given good field position after a muffed punt by Aquinas, Leavenworth went three-and-out.

In total, Coach Mark Littrell’s team totaled 47 yards in the first half.

“We’re a young team, and they never gave up. I wanted more for them then to have it end like this, but these guys have a lot of upside,” Littrell said.  

After the break, the Saints took to the ground, not attempting a pass after halftime. Hicks had another 6-yard score. Backup fullback Cameron Jackson added two more touchdowns. Jackson wowed the crowd with a slashing 39-yard score late in the third quarter.

“I hit the hole, broke a tackle, saw the cut to the outside open and I made it to open ground,” he said.

Combined, Hicks and Jackson rushed for 133 yards on just 15 carries. Playing in his first postseason game, Jackson admitted it felt different.

“Every play was more intense, like going 100 percent every play,” he said.

Leavenworth scored the game’s final 13 points, after Aquinas had shuffled much of their starters out.

Standout sophomore wide receiver Anthony Gould, bottled up much of the night by Aquinas’ defense, ended up with 121 yards receiving and a spectacular 45-yard touchdown grab from Dylan McClain.

“He’s talented for sure. We try to run him and also give him passes,” Littrell said. “Yeah, he gets his yards.”

The Pioneers’ Vershaun Adams had 51 yards and the game’s final score, a 5-yard run with five seconds to play.

Leavenworth ends their season 1-8. Aquinas, the three seed in the Class 5A East bracket, will host surprising Bonner Springs, which walloped Lansing 43-0 Friday.