Clinging to a one-point lead, the St. Thomas Aquinas football team had to stop an explosive Shawnee Heights offense that had the ball at the 19.
The Saints rushed quarterback Camden Wheatley, and Ethan Meyers stepped in front of his pass to secure a 42-41 victory and propel the Saints to the Kansas Class 5A state championship game, where they will face Bishop Carroll next Saturday.
“I saw him scrambling and I just stopped where my guy was, and he threw it right to me,” Meyers said. “It couldn’t have been better.”
It was so good in fact that Saints quarterback Karter Odermann, who had four touchdowns of his own, was reduced to a heap on the sidelines celebrating the win.
“No words for it,” Odermann said. “I was on the ground just trying to find someone to hold on to. I trust the defense to make plays, and they do.”
The Saints ran out the final 15 seconds or so and rushed the field while the crowd chanted Meyers’ name.
The offensive fireworks started early.
Aquinas struck first with a 2-yard run by Odermann. Shawnee Heights’ Tony Barksdale answered with a 49-yard blast.
Odermann added another from 4 yards out, which started a little run for the Saints. In the next two drives, the Saints scored on rushing touchdowns from Ben Ewing and Kyle Bollig. The defense also forced a fumble as the Saints stretched the lead to 28-7.
Odermann scored just before halftime on another rushing touchdown, this time from 11 yards out to make it 35-14, but that is when Barksdale really got hot.
He scored on a 71-yard touchdown and then added another from the 1. Wheatley tied the score with a 95-yard touchdown after an Odermann fumble.
Odermann made up for it one play later when he gave the Saints the lead back with a 3-yard touchdown. Meyers’ extra point ended up being the difference.
The Thunderbirds scored once more but missed the extra point.
“My gut hurts from yelling,” Aquinas coach Randy Dreiling said. “It was a frustrating second half. Hats off to those guys. That’s an explosive offense.”
Aquinas improved to 9-3 in its first year with Dreiling at the helm. It is also their first substate title since 2008 when the Saints lost to Dreiling’s Hutchinson Salthawks in the final.
“I’ve never not won a state championship at Aquinas, so we haven’t made any progress yet,” Dreiling said. “We may be stepping backwards, who knows? They might fire me if we don’t win next week, but I’m absolutely ecstatic at where these guys are. We believe we can win.”