Then, Antonio Clark and the rest of the Irish defense stepped up.
“We all had that same mindset – we wanted to win a state championship,” said Clark, a senior defensive back. “There was no point in us winning all those games to get to the state championship game and get embarrassed. We had to dig in.”
Aquinas recorded five sacks, including a pivotal one by Shalom Alvarez and Napoleon Williams early in the second quarter. The Irish also picked off Calvary Day quarterback Michael Peterson three times – all in the second half. Aquinas only allowed 202 yards the final three quarters after getting gashed for 125 in the opening 12 minutes.
“Our offense has gotten a lot of the attention all year, but our defense has played great all season long,” linebackers coach Mike Laney said. “Today was just another example of it.”
Calvary Day entered the red zone four times, with Aquinas stuffing them the final three times. The Cavaliers were primed to go up 10 in the second quarter, until a delay-of-game penalty nullified their 28-yard field goal attempt. Calvary Day sent its offense back on the field, and linemen Alvarez and Williams sacked Peterson.
Aquinas harassed Peterson the rest of the quarter. Alvarez, William Evans and Ryan Bussey each took down the Calvary Day signal caller before halftime as the Irish built a 14-7 lead.
“Every game we just try to use our hands and just fight,” Williams said. “They were pretty big on the other side. …We just had to use our quickness.”
With the Aquinas defensive front pressuring Peterson, Clark came up huge with a juggling interception at the Calvary Day 42 in the third quarter.
“I noticed they kept running the same play over and over and throwing it to the same person,” Clark said. “I got a little antsy and said I had to do something. When I saw him throw it, I said, ‘That’s mine.’ ”
On the next play, Liam Welch tossed a deep pass to Daniel Lindsey for a touchdown. Aquinas led 21-7.
Later, Lindsey and Chris Lambert each added an interception. Also in the fourth quarter, Williams and John Morris combined for a sack with the Cavaliers down to the Aquinas 14. The 8-yard loss eventually led to no points for Calvary Day.
“We were just so well-prepared,” Laney said. “We knew what they were running all day long. We knew what they had done on film. We had seen it all, and we worked on it so much during the week. The kids were ready and they just executed.”