The No. 10-ranked Tigers forced two lost fumbles and intercepted Irish quarterback J.P. Lambert three times in the second half as Darlington picked up a 28-12 win in the second round of the Class A Private state playoffs.
The contest at Chris Hunter Stadium was the first of the postseason for Darlington, which started the playoffs with a bye in the first round.
Kolin Rogers finished with 145 yards and three touchdowns for the Tigers, who are making back-to-back trips to the state quarterfinals after holding a precarious 14-12 lead at the start of the fourth quarter against Aquinas.
Darlington head coach Tommy Atha said his players’ attitude in the final period gave him a good look at just what his team can accomplish when faced with a tough task.
“What I really liked is I felt the kids gritted their teeth and squared their jaws and said, ‘We’re not going to lose this football game.’ We made adjustments and plays on defense, we made big plays when we had to, and came up with interceptions and sacks,” Atha said.
“That’s a good football team. They were 9-2 for a reason and a perennial playoff team. To be able to beat them and go back to the quarterfinals for the second year in a row, play in Week 13, that’s just a tremendous feeling.”
Darlington defensive players like Tate Ratledge, Cade Brock and Rhett McDurmon set the table early, getting through Aquinas’ front line and into the backfield to disrupt Lambert and the Irish’s running game.
McDurmon came up with two fumble recoveries, while Ratledge came through the line nearly untouched at one point in the fourth quarter and sacked Lambert for a 10-yard loss. Barrick Wade then picked him off on the next play with the Tigers up 28-12 with 4:38 left to play, all but ending the Irish’s chance at a comeback.
Demetrius Rogers had a breakout game for the Tigers, running for 129 yards on just 10 carries and pulling down an interception that set up a 3-play, 22-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that gave Darlington a 14-6 lead.
Aquinas (9-3) had a successful drive going through the air later in the period that ended with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Lambert to Joseph Welch, but the Tigers answered near the start of the fourth quarter as quarterback Frank Manning executed a draw play that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Atha Jr. with 10:21 on the clock.
Alex Liddle connected on his third of four extra point attempts to give Darlington a two-score cushion.
The ensuing drive by the Irish was halted four plays in as Casey Gunn picked off the Tigers’ third and final Lambert pass of the night, this one leading to Kolin Rogers scoring on a 33-yard run — his longest of the night — with 5:46 left to play.
“I’m going to tell you, I was extremely proud of our secondary,” Atha said. “Because not only did we get three interceptions, but we broke up a lot of potential first-down passes. That’s the most physical our secondary has been, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Darlington (9-2) will have to go on the road next week to face the Class A Private defending state champions of Eagles Landing Christian Academy, who defeated Trinity Christian 48-14 on Friday.