This time, there was no late regular-season heartbreak.
After barely missing the playoffs in recent years, Aquinas secured a Class A state playoff appearance this year behind a dominating Brendan Douglas performance as the Fighting Irish defeated Washington-Wilkes, 39-21, on Thursday night at Aquinas.
Trailing 8-0 after one quarter, Aquinas (7-2 overall, 4-1 Region 7-A) took over as Douglas got more than 250 yards on the ground.
He rushed for four scores, with his 86-yard run capping a 24-0 Aquinas run.
“One guy grabbed onto me, so I tried to stiff-arm him,” Douglas said. “My eyes opened up and I saw green grass.”
Douglas was busy most of the night, playing on defense and carrying the ball 35 times. Though he was held to minus-7 yards on his first four attempts mostly due to a fumble on a pitch on the first offensive play of the game for a safety, Douglas rushed for 90 yards on his next 11 first-half carries.
He then had 173 yards on 20 second-half rushing attempts.
The running back/linebacker ran like a bowling ball with weaving ability, bouncing off some tacklers and side-stepping others. He also made an impact in the passing game when he caught a screen and helped the Irish get into field-goal range for a 25-yard Connor Tierney kick that gave Aquinas the 18-15 halftime edge.
Earlier, Washington-Wilkes led 15-8 and was the aggressor when it came to trying for plays downfield, but some key drops derailed a few scoring chances.
Once Aquinas grabbed the lead, its defense did well to increase it by forcing two key turnovers.
In fact, the Tigers lost yards on four consecutive offensive plays at one point, with Ray Thompkins getting a physical sack on one stop.
With the Tigers (4-5, 2-3) trying to rally, quarterback Buck Robinson did hit a target to make it 32-21 in the fourth quarter, but Ruben Garnett picked off a throw on Washington-Wilkes’ next possesion.
He returned the interception for a touchdown to essentially clinch the victory.
“It’s fantastic,” Aquinas coach Matt LeZotte said about securing a state playoff berth.
“We deserve it. We deserved it three years in a row.”