They kneeled together in a circle around the midfield “A,” many heads downcast and in hands.
The Aquinas players were protecting the “A” from a Red Devil celebration, as coach Matt LeZotte ordered. But the faces said it all:
Close, but still not enough.
The No. 5 Lincoln County football team beat the No. 3 Fighting Irish for the 32nd consecutive time, this time getting a 20-13 road win Thursday night. The Red Devils, down 10-0 at the half, scored the winning touchdown with 48.5 seconds remaining in the game. It was the closest Aquinas was on the scoreboard since a 15-9 defeat in 1981.
“It’s gonna hurt,” LeZotte told his team.
Turnovers again starred in an Aquinas defeat in the series. In the previous three meetings, the Irish turned it over 12 times total. Though a Daniel Lindsey touchdown reception and a Justin Thompson kick made it 10-0 on Thursday, two third-quarter turnovers helped extend the streak. Both led to Red Devils touchdowns – one even became a defensive score.
First Lincoln County intercepted a pass for a short field. After penalties on both sides, Mike McIntire broke free for a 14-yard touchdown.
Then, right after Aquinas’ Brendan Douglas powered forward for an 8-yard gain, the Irish lost a fumble on the next play. The Red Devils came up with the ball during the rush for the ball and took it back for the score.
In about five minutes, Aquinas went from up 10-0 to down 13-10.
The Irish did answer with an impressive 38-yard field goal from Thompson, but Lincoln County then went on its lone long drive of the game at the perfect time.
In five plays, the Red Devils marched 73 yards, with Zireycus Letman catching a touchdown pass inside the final minute.
Trying to answer late, Aquinas instead didn’t even get a first down on its final chance.
The Lincoln County comeback came as Aquinas’ stadium was hoping for the Irish to beat the Red Devils for the first time since 1972.
Signs like, “Our time is now” were hung in the stadium.
But the physical Irish defense ultimately didn’t matter. Neither did Douglas’ bullying 150-plus rushing yards, though Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell spoke to the star after the game. The legendary coach looked Douglas in the eye, a hand on each side of Douglas’ helmet, and talked. Campbell said he told Douglas he was quite a player and a special kid.
But despite outgaining the Red Devils 265 to 135 — and 73 of Lincoln County’s yards came on that game-winning drive — Aquinas again made the mistakes that has plagued it in recent years.
Surrounded by his disappointed players, LeZotte tried, even pleaded to his team to stay positive after the emotional defeat.
“Everything is a learning experience,” LeZotte said.