Mill Valley tumbles to Aquinas in 5A sub-state title game
Overland Park After defeating St. Thomas Aquinas the last two years in the Class 5A sub-state championship game, the Mill Valley football team's quest for a third straight state title was put to an end by the Saints on Friday.
The Saints' size up front on both sides of the ball was glaring from the get-go in their 55-21 victory over the Jaguars. The Aquinas defense forced Mill Valley to a quick three-and-out on the opening possession to help give the Saints offense a short field for its first drive. Senior quarterback Will Swanson then took it to the house on a 42-yard touchdown run on the Saints' first offensive play to set the tone for the Aquinas potent rushing attack.
"We fully respect Aquinas. They're a great program," Mill Valley coach Joel Applebee said. "Coach (Randy) Dreiling is a great coach. We knew this was going to be a tough game and that we couldn't make mistakes. I'll give them credit. They're a great team."
Swanson's touchdown run was the first of six scores on the ground for the Saints. Cameron Jackson — who set the Aquinas single-season rushing record — led the Saints with 115 yards and three first-half touchdowns. Drew Hicks and Tank Young accounted for Aquinas' other two rushing touchdowns, as they helped the Saints rack up 348 yards in their flex-bone option attack.
After Swanson and Jackson found pay dirt to give the Saints a 14-0 edge in the first quarter, the Jaguars broke through on the first play of the second with the first of two touchdown passes from Brody Flaming to Matt Wittenauer. Flaming found Wittenauer over the middle for a 14-yard touchdown strike on 4th-and-6.
"The kid is a great player. He works his butt off every day," said Flaming of Wittenhauer. "He's long, tall, lanky and that's what you want in a receiver. He'll go up and get that ball. Logan and Matty next year will be great for this team and I'm excited to see what they do next year."
The momentum for the Jaguars was short-lived, though. The Saints answered with a 48-yard touchdown run from Hicks to push their lead to 21-7, and Jackson broke the game open with two scores in the final two minutes of the half.
With the Jaguars in a 28-point hole to start the second half, Flaming kept on firing to try to bring his team back in it. Flaming connected with Evan Rice for a 49-yard pass to get the Jaguars rolling, and then threw an 8-yard strike to Wittenauer in the corner of the end zone to cap the first drive of the second half.
Wittenauer had high praise for Rice and junior wide receiver Logan Talley for mentoring him throughout his first season at the varsity level, and credited Flaming for boosting his confidence as well.
"Watching them practice each and every day, it makes you want to motivate yourself to be as good or better than they are," Wittenauer said. "Competing at practice with them is amazing. It's fun. I'm really going to miss it."
The Saints made Flaming earn each one of his completions, as he was under duress from the Aquinas D-line for much of the night. Flaming completed 25 of his 46 passes for 236 yards, but the pressure from the Aquinas defensive front forced him to throw three third-quarter interceptions — one of which resulted in a pick six from Jared Flood. Sam Wolff and Ryan Jurczak corralled the other two interceptions to help highlight the night for the Saints secondary, which was without one of its best defensive backs in Jayden Russell due to injury.
The Jaguars battled the injury bug as well with running back Cameron Young and defensive back Tanner Moore being sidelined in the second half. Young exited after rushing for 21 yards on four attempts. Trevor Wieschhaus added 24 yards on four carries, but Flaming did a bulk of the damage in the running game for the Jaguars. Flaming rushed for 118 yards on 18 carries — including a 39-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
A few minutes later, Flaming ran off the field for one last time as he received a round of applause from the Mill Valley faithful. Flaming was greeted first on the sidelines by Applebee, who gave his senior quarterback a long hug.
"It sucks that we lost, but at the same time we had a great season. That moment was a great moment," Flaming said. "It was hearing the crowd cheering and just all that kind of stuff. It's a great feeling to have, but also it sucks to lose. It happens. It's the way the tower falls sometimes."
Flaming was one of just 11 seniors for the Jaguars. After accepting the sub-state runner-up plaque from Aquinas athletic director Sarah Burgess, Flaming savored the following moments on the field with his teammates, coaches, friends and family.
"This program means almost my life to me. They've taught me how to get through the ups and downs of everything that happens," Flaming said. "I think everyone that comes through this program is a better young man and will be a better father figure to anyone who looks up to them. It's a great place to be and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
With the win over the Jaguars (7-5), the Aquinas advanced to the 5A state title game against Bishop Carroll. The Saints (11-1) and the Golden Eagles (11-1) will square off at 1 p.m. on Nov. 25 at Pittsburg State's Carnie Smith Stadium in a rematch of the 2014 state title game. The Golden Eagles edged Goddard, 29-17, to punch their ticket to the championship game.
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