Aquinas tops Bonner Springs to advance
By Kyle Palmer PrepsKC staff writer
Another playoff game, another dominating win by St. Thomas Aquinas at home.
The Saints used three long first-half drives to take control of their regional round playoff matchup with Bonner Springs and ultimately coasted to a 42-14 victory to advance to sectional play next week at Topeka-Seaman.
“We’re a confident team right now,” said junior fullback Drew Hicks, who had two second-half touchdown runs. “We have fun, and we want to make each other proud. This was fun, that’s what we do.”
Fun indeed. A party-like atmosphere pervaded on the field afterwards, with players and family mugging for selfies with the regional championship plaque. At one point, players surrounded senior slot back Jackson Stalp, whooping and chanting his name.
Stalp scored the Saints’ final touchdown early in the fourth quarter, a 20-yard scamper. It was his first career score on the varsity level.
“That felt amazing,” he said. “As a senior, man, we’ve been working so hard. I’m glad I got to experience that.”
Stalp’s touchdown got the biggest cheer of the night. It was one of six rushing touchdowns the Saint’s pounded across the goal line. The Saints thoroughly controlled the line of scrimmage, totaling 373 yards on the ground.
For the Bonner Springs Braves, it was a tough loss to end an up-and-down season. First-year coach LaDrew Murrell credited his senior class for their perseverance. Their final season began with the unexpected news back in August that well-liked coach Luke Aslin was leaving for a job in Oklahoma.
“Coach Aslin was a leader,” Murrell said. “I stepped in and they played very hard for me. The season could have gone in a very bad direction, but they stepped up and played hard for us for 10 games. I am very grateful to them for that.”
Bonner beat Kaw Valley rival Lansing two consecutive weeks to get to this stage, and seemed to have found a potent one-two backfield punch with halfback Tobias Womack and senior quarterback Charlie Gray, who started the last two games.
The Braves were the aggressor early. Twice, they drove into Saints’ territory in the first quarter, sandwiched around an Aquinas three-and-out. On their second possession, Bonner drove to the Aquinas two and seemed poised to take the lead. But Gray fumbled on the goal line.
That changed the game.
Aquinas took the ensuing possession and drove 99 yards in 14 plays—all runs—in 5:19. Junior quarterback Will Swanson slashed in from 11 yards out for the game’s first score.
Bonner would go three-and-out on its next three possessions. And Gray would leave the game in the second quarter with a twisted ankle after being sacked by Anthony Gaona.
“That’s our quarterback, man, big kid, hard to tackle. That’s just the kind of adversity we’ve dealt with all year, and this time we couldn’t get over it,” Murrell said.
Meanwhile, Aquinas conducted a withering ground assault. Two more scoring drives—one of 84 yards, another of 63—consumed more than seven minutes of game time. Freshman Matthew Roberts dove in for a 2-yard score. Swanson added a one-yard touchdown dive right before the half.
“I kept telling coach, ‘Put me in. Matthew always gets it down there on the goal line,’” Hicks, the junior fullback, joked.
He needn’t have worried. Hicks carried a team-high 18 times for 136 yards and had two short scoring runs after the half.
Hicks’ scores were bookended around a sterling defensive play. Midway through the third, safety Jared Flood caught a tipped pass from backup Braves quarterback Cole Oakes. He weaved and ducked through traffic and returned it all the way to the Bonner 1.
“The defense, we were all in good coverage. I got some good blocks and was able to go from there,” Flood said.
Hicks shot into the end zone the very next play, putting Aquinas up 35-0.
Stalp’s score would come a few minutes later and give the Aquinas faithful one last thing to cheer about.
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