By JOHN LIKANJE
HILTON, N.Y. – Aquinas looked primed to cruise to their fifth consecutive victory after taking a 14-point lead three times, including a 35-21 cushion midway through the third quarter. But Hilton responded to every punch the L’il Irish threw at them. Except one: Ulysees Russell. The junior wide receiver hauled in three touchdown catches, including one to ice the game as the L’il Irish defeated the Cadets, 42-33, at LeBeau Field, Friday night.
“At the end of the day, the kids toughened up and got it done when they needed to get it done,” Aquinas head coach Derek Annechino said. “It just goes to show their resiliency and how their hard work pays off.”
Leading 35-33 with 4:54 remaining, Aquinas turned to Will Benjamin to run out the game clock. The sophomore tailback scrambled for three yards, but was immediately pushed back for a loss of two on the ensuing snap. Although Benjamin hauled in a six-yard catch, the L’il Irish were three yards short of a first down.
Aquinas got 37 yards more than they needed as junior quarterback Tyler Szalkowski dumped it off to Russell, who sprinted to the left side into the end zone.
“I told my coach, ‘I got us,'” Russell said. “Let’s get to it. They believed in me. Tyler passed me the ball and we scored.”
“Manny’s our playmaker,” Annechino said. “We just wanted to make sure we got the first down and we were able to burn some more clock.”
Hilton attempted one last dramatic comeback as senior wide receiver TahJae Hill hauled in a 32-yard catch. Quarterback Peter Reyes heaved the ball towards the end zone, but it fell right into the hands of Aquinas safety Gabriel Giannini.
Along with his three touchdowns, Russell caught eight balls for 174 yards. The junior wideout has compiled 757 receiving yards through six games this season.
“Whenever Manny has the ball in his hands, he can go and that’s what he did,” Annechino said about Russell.
Szalkowski completed 14-of-20 passes for 242 yards and four touchdowns. The junior quarterback has thrown for 200 or more passing yards in five of six games and 1,434 total.
Benjamin continued his strong season with 11 carries for 114 yards and found the end zone twice. The sophomore tailback has scrambled for 595 rushing yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Along with a touchdown catch to end the first half, senior Steve Mahar led the defense with 16 tackles. Joe Debonis had 13 while Patrick Fenton added 12.
For Hilton, Sean Meyers bullied his way to 30 carries for 186 yards and three touchdowns. The senior tailback has rushed for 140 or more yards five times and is up to 962 total.
Senior Najier Daniel snagged a pair of touchdown catches for 57 yards. Hill caught three passes for 73 yards and carried the ball twice for 17 more.
Aquinas (5-1) will host Webster Schroeder Friday night at 7 p.m. Hilton (3-3) travels to Monroe Saturday afternoon for a 1 p.m. kickoff.