Tattnall Square’s first trip to Aquinas wasn’t pretty.
Top-ranked Aquinas was able to complete 12-of-14 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns, as well as run for 179 yards and four scores, as the Fighting Irish defeated the Trojans 49-21 on Nov. 7 in the GHSA Region 7-A championship game.
Three weeks later, Tattnall (10-1) is heading back to Aquinas (11-0) for a Class A private school quarterfinal, with hopes that lessons learned from that loss, combined with a healthier key player, will change things up.
“We’re playing a team that beat us soundly the first time we played them, but the guys are pretty excited about the opportunity to play them,” Tattnall head coach Clint Morgan said. “We don’t think we played particularly well the first time, and we think they played really well. We do know that we belong in this game. We’re going to go up there and do the best we can do and hope for a different outcome.”
That healthier key player for Tattnall is fullback/linebacker Jonathan Ward, who suffered an ankle injury in late October and saw reduced playing time in the first game at Aquinas. Tattnall’s leading rusher during the regular season with more than 800 yards and leading tackler with more than 70, Ward ran for only 50 yards and didn’t score three weeks ago. Morgan said Ward was on the field for only 30-40 snaps and was “only around the 65 percent mark” during that first meeting.
Tattnall, the No. 7 seed, defeated Pinecrest 23-0 last week. Ward ran for 57 yards on 12 carries.
“He is back; he is not 100 percent yet, but he’s getting closer and closer every week,” said Morgan, who estimates Ward to be at the 85-90 percent mark. “If he plays as well as he played last week, I’ll feel a lot better than I did the first time over there.
“He’s playing primarily defensively. He may be getting the same amount of carries, but he’s not in the game for the same amount of snaps on offense. We started using JJ Battle at fullback a lot more, and we brought Zion Blasingame into the game to play wingback. We’re trying to rest him a bit on offense.”
Aquinas, last year’s Class A private school champion, finished second to Calvary Day in the power ratings. The Fighting Irish, winners of 25 straight games, defeated St. Francis 42-28 last week in the opening round.
Ruben Garnett, Aquinas’ top running back with 1,725 yards and 24 touchdowns, sat out most of the St. Francis game after suffering a foot injury. The Augusta Chronicle reported last weekend that Aquinas expects Garnett to be able to play against Tattnall.
In the first meeting, Garnett ran for 170 yards and three touchdowns against the Trojans.
The Tattnall-Aquinas winner faces the Mount Paran Christian-Savannah Christian winner in the semifinals.