PITTSBURG — Bishop Carroll’s locker room at halftime on Saturday was a somber place. There was frustration, anger and disappointment because the unbeaten Eagles trailed St. Thomas Aquinas by a point in the Class 5A championship game.
Carroll’s defensive starters had given up their first points of the season after a fumble by quarterback Colton Howell, who told his team he had played like trash.
Coach Alan Schuckman reverted to a role that was unfamiliar in coaching a team that had outrscored opponents 682-58.
“I felt like a cheerleader,” Schuckman said. “Telling them, ‘We can win this, you know. Twenty-four minutes left in the game.’ Just trying to get them excited again.”
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Carroll got the spark it needed by turning a third-quarter Aquinas fumble into a go-ahead touchdown. The Eagles scored 33 straight points to beat Aquinas 39-7.
Carroll has won two unbeaten 5A titles in the past three seasons.
“This is everything we’ve worked for,” Carroll senior Jacob Morgan said. “Ever since I can remember, every summer camp since I was in third grade, this is what we dreamed of.”
Senior running back Denzel Goolsby played on the 2012 title team, but had more of a role Saturday. He had a 34-yard touchdown run and two touchdown receptions of 47 and 21 yards. He finished with 72 receiving yards and 89 rushing.
“It was a very special year,” said Goolsby of 2012. “There was a lot of sophomores that contributed that year. Definitely as a senior, (this) means so much more. We took on a lot of responsibilities. It definitely means more to come out and lead the team.”
The Eagles’ worst moments before Saturday? A 2-0 deficit against Heights in September and two tipped-pass interceptions against Salina South.
“Every other game this year, they gave up after the first couple possessions,” three-year defensive starter Mark Quaney said. “We saw that wasn’t going to happen today. We were going to have to earn it today.”
Aquinas (9-4) provided a physicality that Carroll struggled with initially.
“We had a lot of slipped tackles,” Morgan said of the first half. “They did a really good job of slipping us.”
Howell gave Carroll an early cushion with a 35-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage.
“We kind of relaxed a little bit,” Schuckman said. “Here we go again.”
Howell completed 1 of 6 passes in the first half. The Eagles turned it over on downs on their second possession. They got to the Aquinas 8 on a 15-play drive but had a 25-yard field goal attempt blocked midway through the first quarter.
When Aquinas went for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 26, the Carroll defense smothered the Saints. But Howell was intercepted on the next play.
It got worse. On Carroll’s fifth possession, with 1:28 remaining, Howell lost a fumble at the Eagles’ 18. Four plays later, Aquinas quarterback Karter Odermann scored from 1 yard for a 7-6 lead.
Carroll allowed 17 first-half points this season.
“(Defense) gave up one touchdown today,” Howell said. “You know what? I’ll take most of the blame for that one. You can put a little asterisk by it in the record books that they probably didn’t give that one up.
“ I played like trash in the first half. In the locker room, (my teammates said) ‘come on, Colton, come on.’ I told the guys, ‘Every game is 48 minutes. The first 24 minutes was the worst 24 minutes our team has played all year.’ I said, ‘we’re going to make the next 24 minutes the best 24 minutes we’ve ever played.’ I think it might have been.”
The Eagles craved a spark. The defense provided it.
On Aquinas’ first play of the second half, Christopher Dugan forced a fumble.
Howell threw to Goolsby on the left sideline for a 47-yard touchdown less than a minute into the half for a lead the Eagles wouldn’t lose.
“You could almost feel the momentum shift from sideline to sideline,” Howell said.
Howell had 159 passing yards, 108 rushing, three touchdown passes and two rushing touchdowns.
On Aquinas’ first play of its second third-quarter possession, the Saints fumbled again.
“We fumbled the ball, put the ball on the ground,” Aquinas first-year coach Randy Dreiling said. “They’re too good to give up a down. We just gave up downs the whole second half. We attribute that to them.”
Carroll didn’t score following the second fumble, but midway through the third, Goolsby raced 34 yards up the left sideline for a score. About three minutes later, Howell threw a jump pass to wide-open A.J. Dunmire for a 47-yard touchdown and the 27-7 lead with 2:49 to go in the third.
The Eagles went more than 22 minutes without scoring after its first touchdown, then scored three touchdowns in just more than eight minutes.
“It’s not like (Aquinas’ defense) was doing anything outstanding,” Howell said of the first half. “It just was not Carroll of us. We don’t usually do stuff like that. Turn it on in the second half, that’s when you see the points come up and the defense just destroying you.”
With two unbeaten seasons under Carroll’s belt, it’s inevitable that they are compared. Which was better? Schuckman had avoided the question because the current team hadn’t won a title.
Schuckman finally gave his answer after Saturday’s win. Sort of.
“Both groups are real special in my heart,” he said. “I think anytime you go 13-0, you need to be in the discussion that you’re one of the best football teams in Bishop Carroll history.
“Maybe we’ll go to the water cooler and talk about it tomorrow.”
BC — Howell 35 run (fun failed)
STA — Odermann 1 run (Meyers kick)
BC — Goolsby 47 pass from Howell (Bell pass from Howell)
BC — Goolsby 34 run (kick failed)
BC — Dunmire 47 pass from Howell (White kick)
BC — Goolsby 21 pass from Howell (missed kick)
BC —Howell 8 run (missed kick)
Rushing — Aquinas, Bollig 8-35, Odermann 24-31, Budetti 3-22, Ewing 5-6, Schilling 4-1. Carroll, Howell 20-108, Goolsby 15-89, Allen 1-3, Seyfert 1-2, Weber 2-1.
Passing — Aquinas, Odermann 5-12-70-1, Burditt 0-1-0-0. Carroll, Howell 10-22-159-1.
Receiving — Aquinas, Robertson 3-40, Raunig 2-30. Carroll, Goolsby 3-72, Dunmire 2-52, Bailey 1-12, Sanders 1-9, Brittain 1-4, Newell 1-6, Mans 1-4.