By TODD PORTER
Repository sports writer
LOUISVILLE In the minutes after another win over rival Central Catholic, St. Thomas Aquinas senior offensive lineman James Laisure bear-wrestled an assistant coach. Laisure lost. He ended up on his back, the first pancake the Knights gave up all evening.
Head coach Tim Budd cut through the chase and horseplay after Aquinas’ 35-14 win Friday night.
“You guys are just a bunch of tough son of guns,” Budd said. “Not much has been said about us. Not much has been written about us. No one had much expectations of us.”
But inside Aquinas’ locker room, they did. It started with the first team workout Jan. 17. Historically, after a couple of successful seasons, the Knights will follow it up with a couple of struggling seasons.
“Coach Budd hates losing,” junior quarterback Anthony Moeglin said. “We weren’t gonna be the ones. It wasn’t happening this year.
Our expectations this year were to win. I don’t think anybody outside our locker room thought we could win.”
VIDEO: Central Catholic-St. Thomas Aquinas highlights
Their win over Central was the fifth in a row. For the first time in 27 years, Aquinas is in the playoffs for the third straight year.
“We have nine seniors and nine juniors,” Budd said. “We’ve had injuries and adversity. We got our butts whipped twice and had to bounce back. I was honestly hoping we would be able to bridge the gap and ... these guys exceeded those expectations.”
Why stop now?
With a quarterback such as Moeglin and two receivers in Sam Pusateri and Evan Vernier, this is a team that could make some noise. Moeglin completed 15 of 21 passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns. More impressive was what he did on third down.
Moeglin completed 6 of 7 passes for 168 yards, converted 6 of 7 third downs and threw a touchdown pass.
“We call it the money down,” Moeglin said. “We had a couple of third-and-longs. A lot of times you see teams throw in the towel on third and long. Look at the Browns. You either fight or flight, and we fight every time.”
Central Catholic, which came into the game having not scored a point in the last two games against Aquinas, did itself no favors. After the Crusaders’ game-opening drive stalled near the 50, the Knights took over at their own 28.
On the third play, Moeglin lobbed a perfect pass to Pusateri, who found a seam in the middle of the defense for a 68-yard touchdown pass. Harris Knowles’ PAT made it 7-0. Pusateri, playing varsity football for the first time, finished with more than 100 yards receiving.
The Crusaders tried to answer and the offense moved the ball. A nine-play drive looked promising particularly when a tipped pass into double coverage that was caught by 6-foot-4 Carter Blackeney. But a couple of plays later, hope subsided when Alex Benedetti picked off a pass at the St. Thomas 21.
It was the first of three turnovers for the Crusaders.
“They just outplayed us,” Central head coach Lowell Klinefelter said. “We turned it over and had too many penalties.”
Moeglin went back to work. His first two passes — to Frank DiMarzio for 32 yards and Vernier for 8 — got the ball across the 50. Seven plays later, he hit Pusateri in the corner of the end zone for a 19-yard TD pass. It was a perfectly thrown pass to Pusateri’s outside shoulder.
In the first half, Klinefelter found himself calling plays on first and 15 often because of illegal-procedure penalties.
That 14-0 deficit snowballed. Klinefelter, trying to ignite something on offense, called a double reverse. On the second handoff, though, Moeglin blew it up and forced a fumble that was recovered by Aquinas’ DiMarzio at the Knights’ 21.
On the first play after that, Pusateri ran a double-move route and was open for a 40-yard gain to the Central 31.
Seven plays later, Moeglin threw a perfectly timed pass to Vernier, who was just breaking on his route when the ball arrived for a 13-yard TD pass. Moeglin’s 19th touchdown pass of the season gave his team a 21-0 lead.
Moeglin and the Knights put the finishing touches on the win with the first drive of the third quarter. He hit Vernier for a 49-yard touchdown pass, again against decent coverage.
“We knew we could throw the ball on them. We felt like — no disrespect to Central — our athletes on the outside are better than their athletes,” Moeglin said. “That’s what happened.”