Aquinas wins a wild one, 55-49 over St. Francis

ATHOL SPRINGS — Freshman running back Will Benjamin scored three touchdowns on the ground and sophomore quarterback Tyler Szalkowski passed for 213 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a fourth to lead Aquinas to a thrilling 55-49 victory on the road at Buffalo’s St. Francis.

“It was a very entertaining and kind of fun to coach,” AQ coach Derek Annechino said. “There were moments that were very hairy, but the kids battled through it and won.”

One of those moments came on the last play when junior safety Daunte Horton picked off Jake Ritts to preserve the victory.

With the win, the Irish (6-1/No. 7 NYSSWA Class AA) secure the top seed in Class AA and will be home next weekend for the first round of the playoffs, against either Edison or Penfield more than likely.

Aquinas took a 40-21 lead into halftime thanks an offense that couldn’t be stopped. Szalkowski connected with Ulysees Russell from 28 and 48 yards in the first quarter, and then hit Steve Mahar on a 15-yard strike in the second. Benjamin scored twice in the first half — on a 13-yard run in the opening quarter and from one-yard out in the second. Szalkowski added a one-yard touchdown to close out the first-half scoring for the Irish.

Three times in the second half St. Francis (2-5) pulled to within six points, but every time Aquinas answered the bell. Leading 41-35 Benjamin crossed the goal line from six yards out to push the lead back to 13. Then when St. Francis cut the lead to 48-42, the ball went to Rueben Torres who dove in from 1 yard out midway through the fourth quarter. The Red Raiders pulled to within six one last time at 55-49 when Ritts hit Xavier Janczylik on a 10-yard scoring pass with less than three minutes remaining. Things got dicey when Red Raiders forced Aquinas to punt on the ensuing drive with less than a minute left, but Horton made sure the bus ride home was a happy one with his first interception of the year.

Aquinas was without three of its top playmakers due to injury — Caron Robinson, Kobe McNair and James Jones. Robinson has been out since week 2, while McNair and Jones missed their first game of the year. But the Irish have been holding it together and those that have gotten the call have responded. Torres missed last week’s game against McQuaid, but returned just in time for St. Francis to shoulder the rushing load, finishing with 186 yards on 19 carries.

“All year we’ve played with the ‘next man up mentality’  because of all the injuries we’ve had,” Annechino said. “But those that have stepped up have made the most of their opportunities.”

Aquinas 21 20 7 7 55
St. Francis 7 14 14 14 49
Scoring
St Francis Xavier Janczylik 100 kickoff return (Mark Arrizza kick)
Aquinas Will Benjamin 13 run (Joe Bronco kick)
Aquinas Ulysees Russell 28 pass from Tyler Szalkowski (Joe Bronco kick)
Aquinas Ulysees Russell 48 pass from Tyler Szalkowski (Joe Bronco kick)
St Francis Xavier Janczylik 4 run (Mark Arrizza kick)
Aquinas Steve Mahar 15 pass from Tyler Szalkowski (Joe Bronco kick)
St Francis Xavier Janczylik 32 run (Mark Arrizza kick)
Aquinas Will Benjamin 1 run (kick failed)
Aquinas Tyler Szalkowski 1 run (Joe Bronco kick)
St Francis Jake Ritts 1 run  (Mark Arrizza kick)
St Francis Dawson Tyger 5 pass from Jake Ritts (Mark Arrizza kick
Aquinas Will Benjamin 6 run (Joe Bronco kick)
St Francis Dominik Thomas 46 pass from Jake Ritts (Mark Arrizza kick)
Aquinas Rueben Torres 1 run (Joe Bronco kick)
St Francis Xavier Janczylik 10 pass from Jake Ritts 1 run  (Mark Arrizza kick)
Aquinas Leaders
Rushing Rueben Torres 19-186, Will Benjamin 11-53
Passing Tyler Szalkowski 10-14-213-3
Receiving Russell 3-93, Steve Mahar 3-31
Tackles Daunte Horton 9 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception; Ulysees Russell 7 tackles; Juvon Johnson 5 tackles, 1 sack

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