By Robert Haddocks
John Morris caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Liam Welch in the waning seconds to lift Aquinas to a 17-16 victory against Mount Pisgah and send the Fightin’ Irish to their first state championship.
“Going to the Dome, baby,” exclaimed rookie head coach James Leonard, celebrating on the soggy field with faithful fans who made the trip from Augusta.
Aquinas trailed 16-10 and gained possession with 5:32 remaining. The Fightin’ Irish converted on two third downs and two fourth downs to keep their drive and season alive. The game-winning play came on a third down. Facing a third-and-3 with 26 seconds remaining, Welch rolled left and found Morris drifting in the back of the end zone. In a driving rain, the running back leaped and corralled the ball. Aquinas (13-0) will play Calvary Day in the Class A private school final at the Georgia Dome.
Prior to the drive, Aquinas had thrown the ball only six times, completing five passes for 1 yard. But Leonard said on the biggest play of the season, he knew had to throw the ball and wanted to give the ball to Morris. “He’s our most dependable kid so we wanted to give him the ball,” said Leonard.
Mount Pisgah looked to be in good shape when it scored late in the game. Quarterback Aaron Winchester dashed 14 yards on a read option to give the Patriots the 16-10 lead with 5:36. But the point-after was wide right, leaving the door open for Aquinas. The Patriots wrapped up their best season in school history and finished 12-1.
Browning Dunn led all rushers with 145 yards on 12 carries, including a 75-yard touchdown. Winchester added 113 yards on 22 carries, but completed only four of eight passes for 60 yards. Defensively, Mount Pisgah was led by Shingirai Chigwere and Nicky Piccapietra, who slowed down a potent Aquinas running game. Aquinas was led by Ruben Garnett who, with an injured leg, ran for 116 yards on 35 carries.
After receiving the opening kickoff, Aquinas drove 58 on 12 straight rushes by Garnett, who scored from the 1 to cap the six-minute drive.
Mount Pisgah answered quickly. On its first play, Dunn ran around left end and sprinted down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7.
Both teams entered the game averaging more than 33 points per game, but were grounded the rest of the half. But Justin Thompson booted a 44-yard field goal as time expired to give Aquinas a 10-7 lead. The Fightin’ Irish recovered a fumbled punt with less than a minute left in the half but were stopped on fourth down by Chigwere. However, a face mask penalty gave them one untimed play and Thompson, one of the top kickers in the state, made the kick. Aquinas had 94 total yards in the half, including 83 rushing yards by Garnett. Mount Pisgah tallied 174 total yards, led by Dunn’s 105 rushing yards.
AQUINAS – 7 – 3 – 0 – 7 – 17
MOUNT PISGAH – 7 – 3 – 0 – 6 – 16
A – Rubin Garnett 1 run (Justin Thompson kick)
MP – Browning Dunn 75 run (Chase Clark kick)
A – Thompson 44 FG
MP – Aaron Winchester 14 run (kick failed)
A – John Morris 5 pass from Liam Welch (Thompson kick)