Irish will get test from powerhouse

Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell didn't even hesitate.

From his perspective, the best Aquinas team since 1972 "by all means" plays his visiting Red Devils tonight in an important Region 7-A game.

The Fighting Irish are off to a 6-1 start, only two victories away from matching the school record for wins in a season and close to reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Behind second-year coach Matt LeZotte, a former Westside star and Division I-AA champion as a player with James Madison, Aquinas is only 16 points away from setting the school record for points in a season -- and it still has three regular season games left.

The ground game has been especially dominant behind the strong offensive line. Sophomore Brendan Douglas leads the Irish with 788 yards and 15 touchdowns, and LeZotte considers Douglas to be one of the best players in the state.

Campbell said Douglas could be the best sophomore he's seen in a long time, and the longtime coach also recognized the size of the Irish offensive and defensive lines.

Douglas was quick to defer credit to his linemen.

"I give it up to the offensive line," he said. "They do all the work -- I just run."

Along with LeZotte and the other young coaches, Aquinas has also received a boost from the additions of veteran coaches Jim Connor, a former Aquinas and Evans head coach, and Durwood Sauls. Connor coaches the offensive line and Sauls the linebackers and defensive line.

Defensively, the Fighting Irish haven't allowed more than 17 points in a game all season, and LeZotte gave a lot of credit to the assistants.

All six of Aquinas' wins have come by at least 18 points, with the only loss a six-point defeat to perennial playoff participant Wilkinson County.

After an early season victory, LeZotte went to a local hangout for high school students. A senior student came up to him and told the coach it was the best football game he had ever been to.

Tonight's game presents perhaps the biggest stage yet as the Fighting Irish try to beat the Red Devils for the first time since 1972 -- Campbell's first season as head coach of Lincoln County.

"All you got to say is the name," Aquinas quarterback Dane Anderson said. "Everybody knows them."

Last season, the Irish were blanked 37-0 by Lincoln County. It was the 10th time they were shut out in the series since that victory more than three decades ago.

LeZotte knows how this game is the perfect measuring stick for his up-and-coming program. He said this will make it clear "where we are."

At 2-1 in region play, the Irish trail Lincoln County and Wilkinson County by a single game.

With games against Washington-Wilkes and Warren County the next two weeks, Aquinas has two crucial games left to set itself up for a potential playoff run.

Similarly to how Campbell didn't hesitate in assessing Aquinas, LeZotte wasted no time looking at his team's playoff chances.

"There's no doubt we will (make it)," he said.

More