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Aquinas rallies to win seventh-straight title


1:00 AM, Nov. 04, 2012 EDT

Aquinas coach Chris Battaglia celebrates with junior Alonzo Turney after the Little Irish beat Pittsford in the Class AA sectional championship game Saturday. / ADRIAN KRAUS

The Aquinas Little Irish keep going, just like senior running back Billy Lombardi, who had no easy night Saturday.

Lombardi was chased, surrounded and piled on by the Pittsford defense for most of the Section V Class AA final.

Like the Little Irish as a team, who went into these playoffs with three losses after a move up in classification, Lombardi knew where he wanted to go. Most importantly, Lombardi kept trying to get there.

The Little Irish fell behind Pittsford by 14 points at Sahlen's Stadium, but came back to win 15-14 after Lombardi ran for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

It seemed logical that a streak in which Aquinas won six Section V titles the previous six seasons could come to an end after a move into the state's classification for the largest schools.

Instead, nothing changed except the letters on the trophy won by the Little Irish.

"Amazing, this definitely feels better than the others,'' Lombardi said after he was named Most Valauble Player of the final.

"We came up here (in the playoffs) 4-3. A lot of people said we couldn't beat (No. 1 state-ranked) Rush-Henrietta, and we did.

"A lot of people said we couldn't win another title. You have a feeling that we really accomplished something really big for this program.''

Clyde-Savannah put together a string of eight Section V titles in eight years, which included a move up in classification from 1983-1990.

Caledonia-Mumford picked up where Clyde-Savannah left off and put together a string of seven championships with a step up during 1991-1997.

"There's nothing better than doing something that people said you can't do,'' Lombardi said.

The Pittsford Panthers (8-2) seemed to be a serious threat to end the Aquinas run, when they put the Little Irish into a 14-0 deficit in the first half.

Nick Barclay scored on a 4-yard run late in the first quarter to set up Pittsford's 7-0 lead. Soon after Pittsford kicked the ball back to Aquinas, Panthers linebacker Ben Kroll intercepted a pass.

Kroll's night and Pittsford's prospects for a championships improved on the next Aquinas series, when the senior linebacker intercepted another pass by freshman quarterback Jake Zembiec and returned the throw 63 yards for a touchdown.

Aquinas did beat the scoreboard clock as the second quarter came to a close, with a 29-yard field goal by Jonathan Mastrella.

"People looked at us and said 'Oh, they are not any good,' but we didn't play with all of these guys (because of injuries)," Aquinas coach Chris Battaglia.

"Once we got settled, I knew we would be able to do it.''

The Aquinas defense made sure Pittsford's lead failed to grow, and so did the Little Irish offense with a 17-play, 72-yard drive that took 7:23 before Lombardi scored on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter.

Zembiec completed throws to Alex Bianchi and Macus Connors to convert third- and fourth-and-long situations.

Pittsford's Mac Atkins intercepted the Little Irish's attempt at a two-point conversion pass, but Aquinas was back in the game.

When the Panthers faced 4th-and-1 at their own 46, coach Keith Molinich decided that Pittsford should go for it. The run play was disrupted at the line of scrimmage.

"I felt like they were in control,'' Molinich said. "We tried to squeeze it there. It's worked all season.

"We lived by it, we got caught on it.''

Six plays later, Lombardi finished a 20-yard run in the end zone with 4:27 remaining.

 

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1 Aquinas Institute
Rochester, NY
4-1-0
2 Greece Athena High School
Rochester, NY
5-2-0
3 East High School-Rochester
Rochester, NY
6-3-0
4 Fairport High School
Fairport, NY
11-2-0
5 Webster-Schroeder HS
Webster, NY
9-3-0

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