Like any good boxing match, Aquinas and Stratford traded blows all night Friday in a GHSA matchup until the visitors from Augusta landed a counter late and snuck out of Macon with a 35-28 victory.
“We’re just doing things that good teams will not do,” Stratford head coach Mark Farriba said. “They did the things you have to do, but they’re a good team. They’ve lost two games in the past three years. They know how to win, and we do not understand how to win yet.”
Stratford (1-2) jumped on top 7-0 after its opening drive as quarterback Sim Patrick found Quintez Cephus for a 34-yard touchdown, but as was the theme of the night, Aquinas quickly had a response.
The Irish tied the game six plays later and then answered a second Eagles touchdown to go to the half tied at 14.
Stratford marched 68 yards in five plays to start the second half and retake the lead. It looked like the Eagles finally might be able to grasp momentum and keep it this time after forcing a punt, but Stratford fumbled the ball away on the opening play deep in its own territory, and Aquinas cashed in the mistake four plays later to even the score at 21.
Stratford again took the lead on the ensuing possession as O’Showen Williams scored on an 8-yard run. The Irish took over with a minute to play in the third quarter and chewed up more than six minutes off of the clock on yet another game tying drive, setting up the ensuing Stratford possession that proved to be the difference.
The Eagles started in poor field position due to a mistake on kickoff return before Patrick was intercepted at his own 26-yard line on third-and-14. Aquinas took its first lead of the game on a 15-yard run by Chris Gates five plays later, leaving just 1:09 on the clock.
“We didn’t (put the game away),” Farriba said. “We don’t do the things that you have to do to win those games. We’re just not there.”