St. Thomas Aquinas hot at right time after win over Amite
In any sports season competition, it is never about how you start but how you finish.
St. Thomas Aquinas is Exhibit A in 2017 prep football.
The Falcons started 2-4 under first-year head coach Hutch Gonzales. The Falcons closed the regular season with a four-game win streak, including a monumental 24-20 upset win at previously unbeaten Amite to close the regular season.
For Gonzales, it has been a long road with a short bench to success as fortunes changed around midseason for his Falcons.
“It really kind of happened around week five,” Gonzales said. We started the season with just 44 kids, not a lot. We’re playing football right now with 29 kids who really, really want to be out there and be part of what we are building. That’s really been the difference thus far.”
A native of Covington, Gonzales played at Southeastern Louisiana on Hal Mumme’s first team after SLU returned to college football before playing the Canadian Football League and I was fortunate to be the play-by-play voice of the New Orleans VooDoo when Gonzales was a wide receiver for New Orleans in 2011, catching 28 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns. Prior to taking over for John White at STA, Gonzales was an assistant at Lakeshore and Fontainebleau. To see him succeeding now is no surprise.
It was widely expected to be a coronation for Amite as they celebrated Senior Day with a win to cap an unbeaten season and top three seed in the Class 2A playoffs when the Warriors hosted St. Thomas Aquinas Thursday night. The Falcons had other ideas.
STA trailed 7-0 before scoring on defense as Tyler Tillman recovered a fumble for a touchdown to even the score at 7-7. After trailing 14-7 at halftime, Adam Hetzinger booted a 24-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10 in the third quarter. The Warriors scored again but missed the extra point to lead 20-10 by the end of the third quarter.
Devon Wilson scored on a one-yard run, set up by a 64-yard run by senior quarterback Kade Bleakley to cut the deficit to 20-17. before Bleakley connected with Hetzinger on a perfectly thrown 94-yard touchdown pass to provide the margin of victory with 9:36 to play. The Falcons defense made the lead stand up for the huge upset. Luke Dibeneditto led the defense with nine solo tackles and two forced fumbles.
“It was a big victory for our program,” Gonazles said. “You get to talk about things like that. Outside of our lockerroom, there probably weren’t a lot of people that felt we would even be competitive. We believed we could. To go over there in that environment against a team with the caliber of athletes they have, to even be in the game at the end was special. To have an opportunity to hold them to get the win was special.”
Bleakley has been terrific all season long for the Falcons.
“He’s a season-changer,” Gonzales said. “We kind of looked around at what we had. Our talented sophomore quarterback transferred. Kade came out and the rest is history. Kade is smart, athletic, and a great leader. He can put the ball anywhere he wants to. He is our unquestioned leader. A good high school quarterback is a guy who can hit open receivers and he can do that.”
Based on results, it appears that St. Thomas Aquinas will end up as the tenth-seed in Division III, putting them on the road in the first round of the 14-team playoffs.
“As of right now, we’re looking at Ascension Episcopal and they are solid,” Gonzales said. “If we’re fortunate enough to get out of the first round, we could see Newman again, whom we scrimmaged before the season started. It would be nice to see how far we have come.”
“It’s been fun, the kids have really enjoyed it and they have made it fun for us,” Gonzales said.
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