Jalen Cooper had spectacular touchdown catches of 63 and 64 yards, but they weren’t enough to keep Aquinas from losing its non-league opener, 24-14 to visiting Lancaster Paraclete on Friday, March 19.
Aquinas made four turnovers in the loss, played roughly 15 months after the program’s tough 10-7 state title game loss to Clayton Valley Charter in 2019. Now, the Falcons will have to regroup before it travels on Friday, March 26, to meet a tough Damien team (1-0), which opened its season with a victory against La Canada St. Francis.
“We had too many turnovers,” Aquinas coach Jordan Brusig said. “The way we finished the game was not Falcon football. We won those games two years ago because we could finish — third down and three and we’d get a first down.”
Trailing 17-14, Aquinas hoped to score the go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Instead, Paraclete’s Gavin DePedro intercepted a Dre Robles pass and returned it 30 yards to give the Spirits a 10-point lead.
“We just made too many mistakes and they capitalized,” said Aquinas’ 6-foot-5, 350-pound lineman Junior Taase Faumui. “They were a quality opponent.”
It was a gutsy effort by Paraclete (1-1) which had its top quarterback opt out on the season because he has a scholarship to New Mexico, then lost backup QB VJ Greenwale to a torn anterior cruciate ligament during its season-opening 37-14 loss to powerful Westlake Village Oaks Christian.
“I was just hoping to get a defensive score or special teams score because I didn’t know how many points we could put up,” fifth-year Spirits coach Dean Herrington said. “The pick-six was big. It put us up two scores and made things a lot easier.”
Aquinas took a 7-0 lead with 11:42 left in the second quarter on a 63-yard double pass from tight end Rodarial Abercrombie to Cooper.
“I was just happy,” Cooper said. “We’ve been scheming it up all week and to be able to execute it was a blessing. It really electrified the team.”
Still trailing 7-3 midway through the third quarter, Paraclete took a 10-7 lead on a 34-yard touchdown run by Amir Bankhead, who finished with 119 yards on 28 carries and one TD.
Aquinas seized the lead again, 14-10, on Robles’ 64-yard scoring strike to Cooper with 2:54 left in the third quarter. But on Aquinas’ next possession a bad center snap led to a lost fumble. Paraclete then scored the eventual winning touchdown on a 21-yard pass from Hunter Edwards to Taajean Brown.
Edwards completed 16 of 20 passes for 170 yards and one TD for Paraclete.
Robles completed 8 of 17 passes for 116 yards and one TD with one interception for Aquinas. Cooper caught three passes for 127 yards and two scores.
The Falcons rushed for only 71 yards against a hard-hitting Spirits’ defense.