The showdown Saturday night between high school football powers in New York state, turned into a knockdown.
Aquinas ran, passed and picked its way over Buffalo Canisius 42-7 in front of about 3,000 people at Wegmans Stadium.
It was senior night for the Aquinas football team, and it was players in that class who led the Little Irish, No. 3 in the New York State Sportswriters Association Class AA state rankings, past the No. 1 Crusaders (6-1).
Taylor Riggins, a senior running back, scored three touchdowns, as he ran for 144 yards on just 15 carries. Senior receiver Earnest Edwards finished with three touchdowns, including an interception return of 82 yards on the second Canisius possession of the second half. Two of Edwards touchdowns came on passes of nine and 51 yards from quarterback Jake Zembiec, a senior headed to Penn State after his verbal commitment almost a year ago.
This is probably the best game our offensive line has played, and that’s key for us.
Jake Zembiec, Aquinas quarterback
The offensive players were not the only seniors to shine for Aquinas. Defensive back Shemar Hayes intercepted three passes, one of five picks by the Little Irish. Edwards had the other two.
“We looked really good, we were patient,” Zembiec said. “This is probably the best game our offensive line has played, and that’s key for us. It let me get the ball into the hands of the playmakers.
“Taylor (Riggins) was back 100 percent tonight, so we did our thing on offense. The defense played phenomenal.”
There will be a new No. 1 team in the state rankings. Three guesses which team it will be, as the Little Irish clinched the No. 1 seed for the Section V Class AA Tournament that begins next weekend.
“We came in here and ran into a team that just wanted to win more than we did tonight,” Canisius coach Rich Robbins said.
Aquinas led from start to finish, as the Little Irish scored on its first possession, a drive aided at by a defensive pass interference penalty near the goal line. Riggins scored on a 15-yard run and was soon back on the field and in the Aquinas backfield after Edwards’ first interception.
As long as we keep No. 12 (Zembiec) on his feet, we will be pretty tough to beat. This was our night.
Chris Battaglia, Aquinas coach
The Crusaders stopped Aquinas on downs at the Canisius 13, however. but the second Canisius drive was not any better. Hayes intercepted a pass near the Aquinas sideline and into a touchdown two plays later, a five-yard run by Riggins late in the first quarter. The Little Irish celebrated, until Canisius senior Desmond Nicholas returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
Aquinas extended it’s 14-7 lead with 4:11 remaining in the first half. Riggins’ strong first half continued with a seven-yard touchdown during yet another physical run by the 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior. The Crusaders continued to tumble because of turnovers.
“We played the way we are capable of playing, tonight,” Aquinas coach Chris Battaglia said. “We played really good offensively, really good defensively, and even in the special teams we made some plays.
“I’ve said this, as long as we keep No. 12 (Zembiec) on his feet, we will be pretty tough to beat. This was our night.”