Brendan Douglas is in Athens, Ga., preparing for his first season with the University of Georgia. Matt LeZotte is coaching down at Wayne County. And Aquinas? The Irish are doing just fine.
Any concerns over the loss of all-state running back/linebacker Douglas and the coach who led the program to back-to-back playoff appearances disappeared somewhere in the first quarter Friday night.
Liam Welch tossed two of his three touchdown passes to Daniel Lindsey before halftime and the Irish rolled to a 52-14 season-opening victory over East Laurens.
“Everything clicked. The ball bounced our way a couple of times,” said James Leonard, who became just the second Aquinas coach to win in his debut. “Everybody did their job and played together.”
Aquinas was almost unstoppable on offense, scoring touchdowns on seven of its first eight drives. The one time the Irish didn’t cross the goal line, Justin Thompson punched in a 24-yard field goal.
Welch looked sharp from the start, completing nine of 11 pass attempts to six different receivers for 91 yards. Ruben Garnett, who ran a few plays out of the Wildcat formation, gained 109 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown, while John Morris added 68 yards on four rushes with a touchdown.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of weapons,” said Lindsey, who also scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery. “This is probably the best offense we had the past three years.”
Aquinas took the opening kickoff and marched 69 yards in seven plays. Welch dumped a 9-yard pass to Lindsey for the opening score. Less than a minute later, on East Laurens’ third play from scrimmage, linebacker Chris Lambert scooped up a fumble and rumbled 46 yards down the right sideline, staking the Irish to an early 14-0 lead.
The Falcons’ fortunes didn’t get much better. A Class AA team that advanced to the 2012 playoffs, East Laurens lost fumbles on two of its first three drives and managed just 32 yards of total offense in the first half.
East Laurens finally scored three minutes into the second half when Ben Jackson scored on a 15-yard run one play after Sal Heart, who led the Falcons with 87 yards on four carries, broke off a 62-yard run. Aquinas led 45-6 and had a running clock for the second half.