Robinson, Szalkowski lead Aquinas to season-opening win in Carrier Dome

Caron Robinson (No. 7) celebrates his 54-yard touchdown run that gave Aquinas a lead it never surrendered. (Photo: BILLY HEYEN)

By BILLY HEYEN

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Aquinas fell behind on Saturday after Monroe-Woodbury blocked a punt and brought it to the house. But the Lil’ Irish had the answer.

On the first play of AQ’s second drive, Caron Robinson took a handoff and flew around the left side of the offensive line. His blockers created an edge for him, and he headed toward the AQ sideline. One Crusaders’ defender had a shot at him. At least it looked that way. But Robinson put on the afterburners.

That 54-yard touchdown put Aquinas in the lead. Robinson was mobbed by his teammates in the end zone. And after the initial scare from the blocked punt, the Lil’ Irish didn’t trail again.

“Saw daylight,” Robinson said. “Everybody started crashing down. Just seen the outside and took it.”

The momentum-shifting run from Robinson was just the start of a scoring onslaught for Aquinas. The Lil’ Irish went on to score 21 unanswered points and eventually defeat Monroe-Woodbury of Section IX, 42-24, on Saturday afternoon in the Carrier Dome. Robinson ran for that touchdown and had a pick-six, Kobe McNair caught two touchdowns and sophomore quarterback Tyler Szalkowski, making his first start, threw for three scores.

“This was a tough battle and these kids came out and played hard,” said AQ head coach Derek Annechino. “We had 33 guys available today and it was 100 degrees in here. And they came out and they battled hard and played their butts off and came away with a win against a very good football team.”

After Robinson scored, it was time for the passing game to get in on the action for AQ. Szalkowski spotted Kobe McNair streaking down the middle of the field and put it up for the 5-foot-7 receiver. Even without height on his side, McNair went up and brought the ball down.

“I got really good chemistry with that guy,” Szalkowski said. “Kobe’s a very good ballplayer.”

Ulysees Russell hauled in a pass on the next AQ drive, juked one defender a few yards the wrong direction and sprinted to the right pylon for a 23-yard score.

McNair brought down a jump ball in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter. That was the answer for Aquinas after Monroe-Woodbury had just scored on a 78-yard pass. And although the Crusaders tacked on a field goal to end the first half, Aquinas had a double-digit lead to work with at the break.

After the teams combined for 44 points in the first half, the second half began as a stalemate. Neither team could find a way to move the ball. Aquinas hurt itself with a couple of 15-yard penalties while on offense. But then, with about a minute left in the third, Robinson made another remarkable play.

Monroe-Woodbury looked to throw a screen route to the left side of the field. But positioned near the slot, Robinson saw the tackle leak out and stayed home, because it’s something AQ had worked on in practice, he said. He was able to get in the way of the ball and snare it at the peak of his jump. He looked as if he might lose his balance, but he didn’t and was able to trot into the end zone. Robinson’s pick-six put the Lil’ Irish up 19 and in control.

“That’s what Caron does,” Annechino said. “He’s not the best player around for no reason. That’s what he does. He’s a game changer.”

From that point on, it was cruise control to the finish line for Aquinas. Damon Montgomery added a score of his own, and the Lil’ Irish got off the starting line with a win. With the conclusion of the state tournament taking place in the Dome in November, Aquinas hopes it’ll be back.

“It was awesome,” Szalkowski said. “First win, first game. Everyone had fun, we won the game.”

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