ROCHESTER — The question coming into Saturday night’s highly anticipated Class AA Far West Regional was: Could Aquinas stop Jamestown’s offense and quarterback Jake Sisson?
Aquinas didn’t quite do that. But Jamestown couldn’t stop the Little Irish or its standout quarterback, either.
Highly recruited sophomore Jake Zembiec accounted for six touchdowns as Aquinas answered a strong comeback attempt by Jamestown in the second half to win, 48-34, before an estimated 3,000 at Sahlen’s Stadium Saturday night.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Zembiec threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 313 yards and surprised many with his running ability on eight carries for 49 yards, including scores of 36 and 5 yards.
“That kid right there is big time — he’s a big-time player,” said 12th-year Aquinas coach Chris Battaglia. “Anybody who doesn’t think Jake Zembiec is the best player in Section V or the state is kidding themselves, because that dude is. He isn’t getting offered by Notre Dame and people like that because he’s not.”
Zembiec’s two runs came in the second quarter and provided a 28-6 halftime lead for an Aquinas team ranked first in the New York State Sportswriters Association Class AA poll.
Jamestown surged back behind Sisson, who threw for 299 yards and one touchdown while completing 28 of 43 passes. He also ran for two touchdowns in a 13-carry, 49-yard rushing night.
With his 299 yards, Sisson broke the Western New York single-season passing record. He finished with 3,170, surpassing the 2011 total of 3,050 by Chad Kelly of St. Joe’s. The 3,170 yards is also the second-highest single-season total in state history, behind the 2004 mark of 3,677 by Greg Paulus of Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse.
The Red Raiders (10-1), ranked first in The News large school poll and sixth in the state, scored on their first drive of the second half when Sisson ran in from 3 yards out to complete a 10-play, 77-yard drive. It cut the Aquinas lead to 28-20 when sophomore Zacc Kinsey (103 yards on 12 carries) ran in from 4 yards out with :59 left in the third quarter.
The teams alternated touchdowns from there, with Jamestown making it a one-score game twice more only to have the Little Irish answer. Zembiec threw a 9-yard touchdown to Donato Clemente (9 catches, 123 yards, 3 TDs) for a 35-20 lead, then had a 35-yard score to Alonzo Turney on fourth down to make it 42-27 with 5:44 left. Sisson ran in from 3 yards out with 3:37 to play to make it 42-34, but Aquinas senior running back Luch Pietropaolo (20 carries, 96 yards) ran in from a yard out with 1:03 left to seal the game for Aquinas.
“We had our chances,” said Jamestown coach Tom Langworthy. “We hung right in there. I’m really proud of our guys. It stings when you don’t win. It’s tough. It stings. And it’s going to sting, because we were close. But they made plays and they’re a good football team. We got into that hole in the first half and right when we thought we were going to crawl out of it, they made a play.”
Junior Stephen Carlson had seven catches for 131 yards and a touchdown for the Red Raiders, who this year won their first Section VI title since 2000.
“Every year is so hard to talk to those seniors, because those guys aren’t going to put pads on again,” Langworthy said as his senior class waited on the field for one final huddle. “So that’s really tough to swallow.
“But at the same time, boy, how many memories have we had this year? How many great moments have we had this year? Being able to accomplish three out of our four goals, going undefeated at home, winning the Class AA league title and winning a section title, these guys have nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about these kids. They’re great kids and I love them.”
Aquinas (11-0) will return to Sahlen’s next Saturday at 6 p.m. for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association semifinals against Section IV (Binghamton area) champion Elmira (11-0).
The Aquinas victory was the only one of the weekend for Section V (Rochester area) as Section VI won four of the five regional games. The 4-1 performance matches Section VI’s best output in the regional round. No region has ever swept the regionals. Section VI has now won four of five regionals four times, all in the last six years.