SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The end looked a lot like the high school football season opener for Aquinas.
Highlights and touchdowns by Earnest Edwards. Video game passing statistics for quarterback Jake Zembiec. A defense so strong, the opposing offense did not get on the scoreboard until the fourth quarter.
Only this time, when the Rochester area champions left Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome Sunday night, they left with a second state championship in three years.
Aquinas left no doubt in the first half of the Class AA final and went on to defeat a high-scoring Saratoga Springs team 44-19 to finish the season with a 13-0 record.
“It’s an honor to have it in my senior year, knowing that they cut us off last year,” Edwards said. “It’s whatever (now), we got it in our last year.”
Edwards and Zembiec, who along with Aquinas senior linebacker Jamir Jones showcased that they are Football Bowl Subdivision college prospects, did not leave Syracuse with state playoff records, but the “Zembiec to Edwards Show” must be one of the all-time top performances in this round.
Edwards was named the Most Valuable Player of the Game, after he scored four touchdowns, three on throws from Zembiec. The senior receiver who tight-roped down the sideline for one of his scores and wiggled past Saratoga defenders during another pass play, finished with 286 yards on five receptions.
“He’s a big-time player obviously,” Zembiec said. “He’s got some pretty scary talent, so when he’s hot and he’s feeling it, he’s dangerous. You saw that today, on the biggest stage of the season.
“Hopefully, he picks up a few more (college athletic scholarship) offers, he’s really an underrated player. He’s been huge for us this season.”
“I don’t think it’s just this place,” Aquinas coach Chris Battaglia said. “If we get Earnest the ball in space, you see what he can do. Last week (versus Liverpool during the state semifinals), we had some issues with getting him the ball in space.
“It got hard, but come on, that kid is unbelievable. He and Jake? People are right. I have great players. My job is to stay out of the way and let them play. That’s what I try to do, I don’t try to overcoach them, I let them play.”
Zembiec, named the game’s most outstanding offensive back, threw for 462 yards on 18 of 23 passing. James Franklin, Zembiec’s future coach at Penn State, was at the Dome to see it, including the touchdown strikes of 75 and 53 yards to Edwards, who turned a slant into another 60-yard score.
Zembiec finished with a section career record 76 touchdown passes in four seasons, including one cut short because of a broken wrist on his left, non-throwing hand. His 6,375 passing yards is another career record.
The 37 touchdown passes and 3,007 yards in 13 games are single-season records in Section V.
This was a much more satisfying way for Aquinas to finish a season, compared to how 2014 came to a close after the Little Irish defeated Pittsford in a Section V first-round playoff game.
Zembiec’s eligibility was called into question, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and Section V said he should not have played in the postseason and a judge ruled in favor of the sanctioning bodies. Aquinas forfeited its playoff win and was out of the sectionals.
“It motivated us to win for them, running through the locker room there was a sign with all of the seniors’ names that were kicked out (of the postseason),” Jones said. “It just reminded us that we had to do it for them.”