CLASS A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP, at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse, Friday, 3 p.m.
At some point 1940s and 50s, Aquinas Institute was a national football power along the lines of California’s De La Salle, the type of team capable of drawing opponents from across the region and the country to games with as many as 15,000 or 20,000 fans.
The school isn’t quite at that same level now, but it does schedule opponents from across the northeast with a team that ranks among Rochester’s best every year. The last four years you could say Aquinas is one of the two best Class A programs in the state. It won the state title in 2007 and lost to Sweet Home the last two years in the state quarters. Of course, Sweet Home won the last two state titles.
Harrison understands what it’s up against, in more ways than one. Art Troilo Jr. told me Monday that Aquinas “had a good situation,” alluding to both the program’s history, it’s current talent and the fact it is not a public school playing against public schools. As I said earlier this week, Aquinas plays a regional schedule against teams from across the northeast. Their opponents were very good, but none of them stayed close, including Catholic schools from Buffalo. I was told there is acrimony in Rochester (and Section 5) from Aquinas’ inclusion in the sectional playoffs but it’s difficult for the school to join a league in the section, from what I was told. (Section 5 is not in charge of its leagues; the leagues run themselves, which is different than Section 1.)
So having said all that, tomorrow’s game will be decided on the field. What Harrison will face is predominantly a running team that uses four backs, primarily 1,000-yard rusher Mike Messina. Even though QB Cory Benedetto has thrown for 1,500 yards, Aquinas would always rather run than pass.
The Little Irish are aggressive on defense, which is a trait the coaching staff brought over from Webster-Schroder. The staff almost all worked there when the Section 5 school played and lost to New Rochelle in the 2003 Class AA state final.
Of course, Harrison will face a bigger team as well. The biggest and perhaps most important name to know is 6-foot-7, 305-p0und junior Jarron Jones, a Division I prospect at defensive tackle.
“They’re very, very solid,” Troilo said. “They have a lot of depth. A lot of size. And a lot of backs and receivers. They’re a great program.”
Harrison will need to play its best game to win, no doubt. But after what it achieved against Burnt Hills, a team that outplayed it early on, a win here can not be discounted. The Huskies will need outstanding play from their defense but I think that can almost be expected at this point. The first-teamers have allowed just one defensive TD in the last three games. I don’t think Aquinas will simply run over and overpower Harrison’s D. The question is whether or not the Huskies can score. Last week they did it with big plays. They may need a few more if they fail to move the ball consistently.
PREDICTION: Aquinas 17, Harrison 14. I have gained a ton of respect for Harrison the last three weeks. That’s why I like them to keep it very close. The defense will play well against a dynamic opponent, and Troilo and his team are on a terrific run. But from what I can gather, this is an elite Aquinas team that’s just good enough to edge the Huskies in the fourth quarter.