ATLANTA — Mike Laney cradled the football in his left arm, still trying to let it all sink in after the game.
In 19 years at Aquinas High School, the defensive assistant coach has seen plenty of bad and ugly. On Friday afternoon in the Georgia Dome, he finally witnessed the best of Irish football.
With its big-play defense and explosive offense, Aquinas bounced back from a slow start to defeat Calvary Day, 27-7, for the Class A private school championship.
“It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable,” Laney said. “I think this is going to be huge around town.”
Six busloads of Irish fans and more witnessed Aquinas, which opened in 1957, make history. The Irish not only won their first football title, but they also recorded their first unblemished season, finishing at 14-0.
James Leonard, 26, is believed to be the first head coach in Georgia since the 1950s to go undefeated and untied in his first season at the helm. His grandfather, Denny, led Boys Catholic and was the first Aquinas coach.
“I don’t think it’ll sink in until we get back on the bus and we’re halfway home,” James Leonard said. “This is kind of surreal right now.”
Laney shared Leonard’s sentiments. As he left the locker room area, he held onto the football – one of the special mementos from the greatest game in Aquinas history.
“I think it’ll probably end up in James’ trophy case,” Laney said. “That’s where it needs to be.”