If proof is needed that there is more than one way to win high school football games, the Aquinas Little Irish can provide it.
Aquinas advanced to Saturday’s Class AA semifinal round by outpacing Jamestown, 48-34. The Little Irish built a 22-point lead by halftime and were wise to add to it.
When the Aquinas defense lines up against Section IV champion Elmira at 6 p.m. at Sahlen’s Stadium, there is an expectation that the offensive formations will be tight.
The quick-hitting action in a double-wing offense takes place in a compact area, compared to the Aquinas and Jamestown spread offenses where players romped in open patches of turf.
“It’s a unique thing to prepare for,” Aquinas coach Chris Battaglia said. “They are a very good team.
“They are very big, very physical and unique.”
The Elmira Express and Aquinas both come into tonight’s games with 11-0 records. Aquinas, the only Section V team still in the playoffs, has held the New York State Sportswriters Association No. 1 ranking in Class AA all season. Elmira is 10th.
This is the third season of the Elmira team formed when the programs at Elmira Free Academy and Elmira Southside combined. The schools are also scheduled to combine.
The Express are 14-1 in their last 15 games and have scored 40.6 points a game while allowing 13. Players on the wings of the Elmira offense have been the ones to watch.
Jerry McPeak, a junior who also is a sprinter during track and field seasons, has 17 touchdowns with 1,469 rushing yards. McPeak averages 9.1 yards a carry — almost the standard distance for a first down.
Eli Thomas, a senior, has scored more. His 21 touchdowns include returns of a punt, kickoff and interception. He averages 9.76 yards per carry and has rushed for 1,191 yards in 10 games.
“Their offensive line plays tough,” Aquinas defensive tackle Mike Holley said. “They get off the ball (at the snap), have a great double team (technique) and they get to the linebackers very well.
“It’s been working for them all year, why change it now?”
It does seems tough for defenses to get their hands on McPeak and Thomas. Battaglia counts three Elmira linemen in the 280-pound range.
“This will be a big game for me and (Aquinas senior) Emelio Zuniga,” Holley said. “They like to make sure that the defensive tackles get pushed and there’s no penetration in the backfield.”
The Aquinas defense had coaches in Section V schools shaking their heads, the Little Irish were so impressive. They most points allowed by Aquinas was 21 until last week.
The Aquinas offense made sure that it would not matter by rarely sputtering against Jamestown. Its performance fell short of record-breaking in some cases, including 522 yards of offense.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Zembiec impressed with four touchdown passes, compiling 313 yards on 20 of 35 passing. The record for most passing yards in a Section V vs. Section VI regional game is 349 by 2002 Aquinas quarterback Mark Zappia.
Donato Clemente, a senior, has produced whether asked to catch passes (426 yards with seven touchdowns) or carry the ball (6.23 average, 11 touchdowns).
If there is too much rain to throw the ball, the Little Irish have and will turn to 210-pound senior Luch Pietropaolo (12 touchdowns, 1,033 yards).
“That kid (at Jamestown) was a legit quarterback and we knew they had three good receivers,” Battaglia said. “That’s why I went for it with a minute left in the first half. I still didn’t think 20-6 was enough.
“It’s not a bunch of little guys acting together (at Elmira). They get a lot of push. We’re going to do what we do, be balanced. We’re going to run the ball and use the quarterback as much as we can, because he’s pretty darn good.”