Such a guessing game would be easy in past years. Chances were, the ball was going to Brendan Douglas. But with Douglas gone and experienced faces working with new ones, the Irish have an offense full of options as they prepare for Friday’s game with George Walton Academy. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 4 in Class A and beat Aquinas in the 2012 private state playoffs.
“We’re going to hit the defense when they’re not ready,” Aquinas sophomore quarterback Liam Welch said. “We’re going to surprise some people – you can’t key in on one player anymore.”
In a season-opening win against East Laurens on Aug. 23, six players had at least one carry and Welch completed a pass to seven different players. Aquinas also passed on 13 of 39 plays (33.3 percent) in the 52-14 win.
A year ago, the Irish beat East Laurens 33-13, passing on nine of 57 plays (15.8 percent) as Douglas accounted for 51 percent of the offensive yards with 145 rushing yards.
Both performances were successful in that one-game sample, but first-year Irish coach James Leonard said this year’s attack is more dynamic and complex, in part because of Welch’s throwing ability. With Welch, almost all of Aquinas’ run plays have a pass option, where a quick screen to someone like receiver Daniel Lindsey could work for big plays.
“We showed we can do a lot more this year,” running back Ruben Garnett said. “We can spread you out. We’re a lot more diverse this year.”
On the ground, Garnett and John Morris are a solid combination, with Garnett’s affinity for cutting complementing Morris’ strength up the middle. Leonard said Morris is probably the most underrated player in Augusta.
In the season opener, Garnett picked up more than 100 yards and Morris averaged 18.3 yards on his three attempts.
“I think a lot of the guys the past couple years probably could have gotten carries at other places because Brendan was such a great player and we gave him the ball, which is what everybody would have done,” Leonard said. “In the back of their minds, I think they want to prove to people.”
This week’s game against George Walton has been circled. After beating the Bulldogs in the regular season, the Irish lost 38-12 in the first round of the state playoffs. Friday’s game should be a test for the new-look Irish.
“We all got one thing on our mind, and that’s last year’s score,” Welch said. “We’ve been training hard the past two weeks. “We’re just ready for Friday.”