Aquinas captured the first football state championship in school history by taking advantage of its limited scoring opportunities while preventing Calvary Day from doing the same.
Liam Welch threw two touchdown passes to Daniel Lindsey, and Ruben Garnett rushed for 111 and a touchdown to lead the Fighting Irish to a 27-7 victory over Calvary Day in the Class A private-school final Friday at the Georgia Dome.
The victory capped an undefeated season for third-seeded Aquinas (14-0) and its first-year coach, 26-year-old James Leonard, whose grandfather, Denny Leonard, was Aquinas’ first coach in 1957.
“It means everything to the school,” Leonard said. “We’ve never had one. We’ve never even been the region champions before this year. It’s the biggest deal ever, we’re very excited about it, and we’re going to keep building on it.”
The loss snapped a school-record 11-game winning streak by fourth-seeded Calvary Day (11-3), The 11 wins were the most in a season in school history.
Aquinas finished the game with less yardage (328-274) and time of possession (25:32 to 22:18) but took control in the third quarter despite running just eight offensive plays in the period. The key came midway through the quarter when an interception by Antonio Clark gave the Fighting Irish the ball at the Calvary Day 42. On the next play, Welch teamed up with Lindsey for their second touchdown and a 21-7 lead. John Morris scored on a 33-yard run with 7:40 to play in the game to put it away. Welch, a sophomore, finished 9-of-12 passing for 132 yards.
Fourth-seeded Calvary Day got inside the Aquinas 20-yard line four times but scored just once, on a 16-yard run by Robert Heyward that gave the Cavaliers their only lead with 3:43 to play in the first quarter. The Cavaliers turned the ball over on downs on their other three trips deep into Aquinas territory.
“The defense played big tonight,” Leonard said. “We knew going in we were going to have to stop a very good offense.”
Calvary Day dominated early but led just 7-0 despite outgaining the Fighting Irish 125-5 in the first quarter. Heyward’s touchdown run capped a seven-play, 51-yard drive and was set by Tyrone Riley’s blocked punt that gave the Cavaliers the ball at their 49-yard line.
Calvary Day had a chance to add to the lead on its next possession, driving from its 41 to the Aquinas 11. The Cavaliers came out to attempt a field goal from there on fourth-and-6, but a 5-yard penalty moved it back to the 16. Calvary Day decided to go for the first down, but Michael Peterson’s pass was incomplete and the Cavaliers turned it over on downs.
Heyward was the game’s leading rusher with 154 yards on 27 carries. Peterson was 16-of-38 passing for 173 yards, giving him 3,170 for the season. He was intercepted three times.
“We’ve been down a lot this year, and we know we’re not going to stop fighting,” Leonard said. “You don’t have to say a whole lot to them, maybe just scream a little bit and they’ll get their engine going.”
Calvary Day – 7-0-0-0 – 7
Aquinas – 0-14-7-6 – 27
C – Robert Heyward 16 run (Dan Hatch kick)
A – Ruben Garnett 37 run (Justin Thompson kick)
A – Daniel Lindsey 12 pass from Liam Welch (Thompson kick)
A – Lindsey 42 pass from Welch (Thompson kick)
A – John Morris 33 run (kick failed)