Aquinas airs it out in win over St. James

By Kyle Palmer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: October 7, 2016 - 9:51 PM

Air Dreiling?

Not quite, but for a night St. Thomas Aquinas’s vaunted flexbone rushing attack took a back seat to the Saints’ less-ballyhooed air game in a sometimes-sloppy 24-7 win over St. James Academy.

Junior quarterback Will Swanson tossed three touchdowns and topped 170 yards through the air in a convincing victory, the Saints’ third straight. Aquinas is now 5-1 and looking to take firmer grasp of a top seed in the Kansas 5A playoffs with two regular season games to go.

On their first play from scrimmage, the Saints shocked the partisan St. James home crowd at Mill Valley Stadium when Swanson aired it out for a 55-yard score to wideout and backup quarterback Nick Bulleigh.

Considering Saints’ coach Randy Dreiling’s run-heavy scheme, the early bomb was a surprise but a harbinger of things to come. The Thunder did, however, block Joe O’Leary’s extra point attempt.

St. James, in turn, struggled offensively early. Senior quarterback and Kansas State commit Sammy Wheeler missed on his six of his first seven throws, and St. James punted on its first three possessions.

Meanwhile, Aquinas expanded its lead with an impressive 15-play drive that ate up nearly six minutes of clock. Swanson found fullback Drew Hicks in the endzone at the start of the second quarter with a 15-yard touchdown. The signal-caller than ran it in for a two-point conversion and a 14-0 lead.

St. James righted itself temporarily after that. Aided by Aquinas penalties, the Thunder kept a drive alive, and Wheeler eventually found junior wide receiver Jackson Diel on a 25-yard fade route in the end zone.

That made it 14-7. And after St. James stopped Aquinas on fourth down in the red zone just before the half, the Thunder seemed to have the momentum.

But Aquinas asserted itself after halftime, holding possession for 18:50 in the second half. Two long drives—one 10 plays, the other 13—netted 10 points, including Swanson’s third touchdown pass, this one to Bulleigh again.

On the other side, the St. James offense stymied, running only 13 plays in the second half. Wheeler ended his night 3-of-13 for 60 yards. He had the touchdown and an interception.

Aquinas’ Swanson had another impressive game: 9-of-14 through the air for 171 yards and the three scores. He added 69 yards rushing on 12 carries.

In his return to the lineup, Hicks had 78 yards rushing on 20 carries and the one touchdown catch.

The only blemish for Aquinas were penalties: 11 totaling 125 yards.

The Saints return home to host Eastern Kansas League rival Blue Valley Southwest next week. St. James goes on the road to Wichita to face Kapaun-Mt. Carmel.