While other area playoff teams started their postseason a week ago, Aquinas had another week to prepare.
And what a debut.
Liam Welch threw five touchdowns passes – three to Chris Lambert – as the Irish won at home against Savannah Christian, 42-14, Friday night in the opening round of the Class A private state playoffs. Aquinas will play at home again in the quarterfinals Friday against Mount Paran Christian.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Lambert said. “We didn’t know where we stood after Brendan (Douglas) left, but we got after it in the summer and thought we had a pretty good squad. I wasn’t ready to go home.”
Lambert’s three scoring catches gave the Irish (11-0) the lead or helped them keep it.
When Welch found time to throw, Aquinas was often setting up for fireworks. Except for a long pass that was intercepted deep in Savannah Christian territory, Welch was on target. He was 6 for 6 on his other first-half throws, throwing for 140 yards and three scores. He ended up with 192 yards on 10 for 11 passing with the five touchdowns.
Early in the first quarter, Lambert made his first scoring catch on a nice grab on a ball that could have bounced off his finger tips. The 29-yard play came right after the Raiders went for it on fourth down inside their 30 on their first possession.
Lambert’s second touchdown was more unlikely. With time for one more play before half and the Irish on the Raiders’ 48, Welch rolled out to avoid pressure and threw up a prayer. Lambert somehow got away from the defense, made the catch and found a home in the end zone as Aquinas led 21-7 going into the third quarter.
Savannah Christian never got closer than 14 points after that.
Though the Raiders (5-5-1) scored on a nearly 10-minute drive in the third quarter, Aquinas’ Griffin Scott grabbed two interceptions, including one that he raced back for the score to make it 35-14.
The defensive highlights came a game after the Irish defense struggled against First Presbyterian, which was another run-based offense. On Friday, Savannah Christian gained 268 rushing yards, but about 90 yards came on the last two possessions.
“We fixed a lot of mistakes from that First Presbyterian game on defense,” Aquinas coach James Leonard said. “I thought the guys played a lot harder defensively. We still got work to do, but I think we’re in very good shape for the next round.”