The St. Thomas Aquinas football team went into the locker room at halftime of the Kansas Class 5A state championship game with all the confidence in the world.
The Saints had held Bishop Carroll, one of the state’s most prolific offenses, to just six points in the first half for a one-point lead.
However, Aquinas’ confidence quickly turned to dismay as the offense stalled after the break, and Bishop Carroll scored five unanswered touchdowns and cruised to a 39-7 victory on Saturday afternoon at Pittsburg State’s Carnie Smith Stadium.
Bishop Carroll finished the season 13-0, and the Saints dropped to 9-4 with an 0-3 mark in state title games. It was their first appearance since 2008.
Never miss a local story.
“We felt good going into the locker room and felt like we were in control of the game,” Saints quarterback Karter Odermann said. “We just came out and didn’t execute in the second half. That was kind of a recurring theme in the playoffs.”
Bishop Carroll got on the board on its first drive with a 35-yard touchdown run from quarterback Colton Howell. Aquinas stifled the two-point conversion attempt, blocked a 35-yard field goal attempt and picked off one of Howell’s passes to stay within striking distance.
The Saints took the momentum and the lead just before the half on a 1-yard run by Odermann and extra point from Ethan Meyers. They started the drive at the Golden Eagles’ 18 and capitalized on a face-mask penalty to keep the drive alive.
Two fumbles were just the start of the Saints’ struggles in the second half as they only had three first downs and never made it back into the red zone.
“It was just a matter of getting off the line faster than them,” Bishop Carroll safety Mark Quaney said. “No offense to the defensive line, but I think they were taking a bit of a pounding for the first half. They came off the ball strong and I don’t think Aquinas was ready for that.”
Denzel Goolsby scored three times in the second half, including touchdown runs of 47 and 34 yards. He also caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Howell, who ran for another touchdown. AJ Dunmire added the fifth score.
The loss ended an exciting opening campaign for coach Randy Dreiling, who took over at Aquinas earlier this year. He previously coached for 17 years at Hutchinson and won seven state titles.
Although Aquinas lost, Dreiling said the runner-up finish and improvement from last year’s 3-7 record gives the Saints plenty to work with going into next season.
“We expected to be here, but no one else expected us to be here,” Dreiling said. “These kids overcame a lot and I am proud of them. It’s a great year to build on.”