Running back Dorian Walker ran for 249 yards and four touchdowns on 33 carries, but the Eagles’ comeback fell short in a 35-32 loss to Aquinas on Friday night in Augusta in a Class A private-school quarterfinal.
The loss left Mount Paran (9-3) one game shy of their first trip to the state semifinals in program history and earned Aquinas (12-0) the opportunity to travel to Johns Creek to take on Mount Pigsah Christian next Friday.
“It’s just a resilient bunch of kids, and I feel bad for them,” Mount Paran coach Mitch Jordan said. “I wish I could’ve done more for them in the first half and prevent some of those late scores. The second quarter was just a bad quarter.”
After Walker tied the score at 14 with a 41-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter, the Eagles’ offense went quiet. A game that had all the makings of a shootout from the opening minutes looked instead like a blowout when the Fighting Irish struck for 21 straight points before halftime.
After starting running back Ruben Garnett suffered an Achilles tendon injury on the first play of the game and Daniel Lindsey needed nearly a quarter to recover from cramping, the Irish were forced to operate with a shorthanded backfield. Quarterback Liam Welch took to the air, connecting with receiver Chris Lambert four times on an 11-play drive, and when he found John Morris over the middle, Aquinas pushed the lead to 28-14.
On the ensuing possession, Mount Paran quarterback Jake Allen had his screen pass tipped at the line and intercepted by Aquinas sophomore William Evans, leaving the Irish 32 yards from the end zone with just over a minute left before the half. Welch’s 19-yard pass to the corner of the end zone was hauled in by Shalom Alvarez to put the Eagles down 35-14 at the break.
Jordan bucked the traditional strategy of staging a comeback through the air, leaning on Walker to bring the Eagles back in the second half.
“We didn’t panic at halftime.” Jordan said. “We just felt like we needed to make some stops and some minor adjustments in the second half. We knew we were going to get the ball back. We just missed some opportunities to score.”
After Dallas Kepler connected on a 40-yard field goal to cap a long drive to open the third quarter, the Mount Paran defense stiffened, and shut down an Aquinas offense that had scored on five of its six first-half possessions. From there, Walker carried the load, grabbing chunks of yardage at a time.
“I try to encourage the offensive staff to stick with our game plan, and eventually it’ll wear people down,” Jordan said. “The offensive line is just a great bunch of kids. There’s no real superstar on there, they just work real hard. It was tough, but they opened up some good holes, and Dorian ran hard as always. He’s a special back.”
Walker punched in his fourth touchdown of the night from 3 yards out with 3:42 to play, and a two-point conversion cut the deficit to 35-32.
The Mount Paran offense got a chance to complete the comeback when it took over at its own 47 after an Aquinas three-and-out, but Jake Allen’s fourth-down pass over the middle for Taylor Trammell was batted away by defensive back Nash Bennet to seal the Irish victory.
“They came out playing a lot harder, I’ll give them that,” Aquinas coach James Leonard said of Mount Paran in the second half. “That’s a heck of a football team — I’m glad we don’t have to play them again. I just think, in the long run, we outmuscled them up front, and we just determined we weren’t going to lose.”