Chiefs coach Andy Reid may be the forefront expert on converting fourth downs in Kansas City, but a pair of Eastern Kansas League high school coaches gave Reid a run for his money on Friday night.
Combining for 4 for 5 on fourth-down conversions, Bishop Miege and St. Thomas Aquinas produced a competitive matchup as Aquinas emerged 45-32 winners in the EKL’s “Holy War” at Bishop Miege.
“Our league top to bottom has got some really powerful teams, and Miege is obviously one of the best,” said Aquinas head coach Randy Dreiling. “So playing those guys tough and not panicking and playing out a game plan, it’s huge for us.”
Much of the confidence for Dreiling and Miege (5-2) head coach Jon Holmes on fourth-down opportunities stemmed from an equally impressive battle between two of the top running backs in the EKL.
Aquinas (7-0) junior Tank Young ran for 303 yards and three touchdowns on 52 carries, while his Miege adversary senior Brison Cobbins put up 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
“We just kept pushing,” Young said. “Kept smacking them in the mouth, kept talking to my O-line to make sure they kept going, no backing down, we just had to fight it all the way through.”
Playing on senior night in front of the home crowd, Cobbins was the first to strike as Miege looked for a short pickup on 4th-and-1 just yards into Aquinas’ territory. But instead of the short run, Cobbins found a hole before breaking free for 40 yards and the first touchdown of the game.
Cobbins was then back on the field after a double-deflection on an Aquinas pass landed in the hands of Miege’s Jack Kincaid.
The resulting drive from Miege led to another 4th-and-1 in which Cobbins was called into action yet again, picking up a short gain for the first down. The following first down allowed Stags quarterback Timothy Dorsey to find Minnesota football commit Daniel Jackson for a 28-yard touchdown pass.
Dorsey and Jackson would have wished to put together more connections throughout the evening, but the Saints’ pass rush provided too much for Dorsey, who completed 11 passes, with five of those coming on the final drive of the game.
Jackson managed a pair of consolation touchdowns late in the game, including a 75-yard reception, to bring his touchdown total for the season to 10.
Aquinas, the reigning 5A state champion wasn’t going to go down without a fight after trailing 13-0 early: The Saints scored 21 unanswered points with Young playing a major part.
Young scored two of his three touchdowns on the night during the surge.
“Our team knows that anytime he touches the ball he can score,” Dreiling said of Young. “So whatever the score is, we have the ability to score a lot of points quickly,” Dreiling said. “And having a guy like Tank, plus our passing game has been very, very efficient this year — I think it was fairly efficient tonight too — that combination keeps defenses off balance a lot.”
But it was perhaps the first touchdown drive of the game for Aquinas that was the play of the night, which involved a successful fake punt for a 4th-and-5 conversion.
The ball was pitched out to slot receiver Finn Barnett who picked up the first down along the hash marks before being knocked out of bounds for an additional 15-yards. The following play saw Barnett catch a 28-yard touchdown from Saints quarterback Blake Anderson.
“It was probably stupid, but it was 4th and about 5 and we knew if we executed it that we had the numbers on that side,” Dreiling said. “I thought at that time we needed to get a score.”
The catch was one of two for Barnett, who produced 106 total yards while his quarterback threw for 129 yards and three touchdowns.
A further 10-yard rushing touchdown for Young in the third quarter allowed Aquinas to go ahead 31-20 and effectively put the game to bed. Miege spent much of the second half on defense as the Saints and Young continued to run the ball down the Stags’ throat. Aquinas held the ball for 32:47 of the game.
A further pair of touchdown receptions from Isaiah Gavin and Tommy Carroll in the fourth quarter capped off a dominant second half from the Saints.
The win is Aquinas’ 19th-straight dating back to last season.