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Garnett carried Aquinas to first state championship

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Ruben Garnett wasn’t always getting very far. But the rushing attempts didn’t stop.

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Aquinas running back Ruben Garnett is all smiles after rushing for nearly 2,000 yards and leading the Irish to their first state crown.   SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Aquinas running back Ruben Garnett is all smiles after rushing for nearly 2,000 yards and leading the Irish to their first state crown.

The Irish kept giving him the ball. Then, on his 11th carry in the state championship game, he was gone.

Aquinas, which had never won more than nine games in a season before this year, went 14-0 and won its first state championship.

Garnett was the workhorse, rushing for 1,928 yards and 22 touchdowns, catching 19 passes for 279 yards and five scores, and making 58 tackles for the undefeated Irish.

He is The Augusta Chronicle’s All-Area Georgia Football Player of the Year.

In the state championship game, Garnett broke free for a 37-yard touchdown run as Aquinas tied the game, starting a 27-0 scoring run that led to a 27-7 victory. He had more than 100 rushing yards in the championship game.

“With a player like Ruben, you’re not going to stop him the entire game,” Irish coach James Leonard said. “You may stop him five times, but that sixth time, he’s going to hit an 80-yard touchdown run. You can feed him the ball over, over and over and sooner or later he’s going to make them pay for it.”

The junior remained a scoring threat for the entire season, even when he was slowed by an Achilles injury in the playoffs.

Often playing at what he said was 75 percent, Garnett stayed strong in the semifinals and championship.

Garnett handled the bulk of the season’s carries and was a force from the start, rushing for 164 yards and two touchdowns, including the winner in overtime, against George Walton.

A little more than a month later, Garnett accounted for four touchdowns and ran for 284 yards as Aquinas beat Lincoln County, ending the losing streak against the Red Devils at 32 games.

The Irish kept winning from there.

“It’s great being a record-setter,” Garnett said about playing on the first Irish team to win a state title. “Because when people look back at this in history, they’ll be like, ‘They must have been great.’ ”

Garnett still has another year of high school to go, when Aquinas will suddenly play with a giant target. But what a good problem to have.

“That’s what we want,” Garnett said. “We just got to come in and work hard and defend our title.”

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