St. Thomas Aquinas, defense shocks Rebels, 34-29

Published 3:36 am Saturday, November 16, 2013


LAPLACE – A season of great expectations ended in heartbreak for Riverside Academy Friday night.

Two defensive touchdowns by visiting St. Thomas Aquinas proved Riverside’s undoing as a late Rebels rally fell short, the Falcons sealing a 34-29 Division III playoff victory when Riverside fell a yard short of converting on fourth down on its final drive.

“We couldn’t overcome what was a lot of mistakes,” said Riverside coach Bill Stubbs. “I was proud of the way our guys played. They played very, very hard. St. Thomas Aquinas is a much better team than a lot of people think … the bottom line is the mistakes we made put points on the board, and that’s what ended up costing us.”

Deuce Wallace made a surprise return at quarterback for Riverside, entering the game after Riverside’s first two drives. Herb McGee started at quarterback and then moved to wide receiver. Wallace was sidelined for Riverside’s final three regular season games after suffering a fractured leg in the team’s 35-28 win over Newman.

Wallace passed completed 28 of 46 passes for 362 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in his return.

But St. Thomas Aquinas (9-2) had a “comeback” story of its own – former Riverside assistant John White is the Falcons’ head coach, picking up an upset win on the field he once called home. White was offensive coordinator under former Rebels’ coach Mickey Roussel.

St. Thomas will face top-seeded Episcopal in round two.

Riverside (8-3) led 16-7 at halftime before the Falcons landed a major blow in the third quarter, beginning a run of 27 unanswered points. James Cox scored his second touchdown of the night on a 23-yard run to cut the Rebel lead to 16-14. Then Dillon Lee hit Cameron Danzler on a 45-yard touchdown pass to give STA its first lead of the second half, giving STA a 21-16 advantage.

That’s when things began to fall apart for Riverside, and when the Falcons’ defense shined. Andrew Killibrew intercepted Wallace and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-16 with 7:16 remaining.

The final blow appeared to come on the Rebels’ next possession after the Rebels drove down to the STA 10 — Dantzler forced a fumble and returned it 90 yards for a score to make it a three-score game, 35-16.

But the Riverside passing game kicked into high gear to create an exciting finish. Wallace connected with Von Julien for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 3:17 left. Then the Rebels recovered an onside kick and took just 1:03 off the clock to score again, this time Wallace hitting Darrion Cook for a 28-yard score.

After STA recovered a second Rebels’ onside kick attempt, the Riverside defense forced a three-and-out. But the Falcons forced three incompletions, then a Wallace pass to McGee went for nine yards on fourth down, just short of a conversion and St. Thomas was moving on.

“That’s the proverbial game of inches,” said Stubbs.

Julien caught five passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Cook hauled in five receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns of his own. McGee caught seven passes for 75 yards and rushed three times for 68.

“Football teaches us about life,” said Stubbs. “We had high expectations but … it happens in life. You’ll be devastated. You can throw in the towel if you want to, or you can learn from it. We’ve got a young football team and we’re still learning.’

“Right now, it’s more about the seniors. They don’t get to get up to eat breakfast with the team and watch film tomorrow as they’ve been doing for so long. They brought so much to our team this year. I really enjoyed this group.”