By Michael Petro, Special to the News
It wasn’t a defensive game, but when Bishop Timon-St. Jude needed a stop from that side of the ball in the waning minutes of Saturday’s Monsignor Martin Class B football championship, the Tigers got it.
In Joe Licata's third season of heading a rebuilding Timon program, the Tigers won a back-and-forth 36-32 shootout over St. Mary’s at the University at Buffalo.
Timon junior Jaden Jennings threw four touchdowns; sophomore Makari Inabinett scored twice to earn the game’s Most Valuable Player; and it was the Tigers’ defense that finished the victory with less than two minutes to play and St. Mary’s driving.
“That’s a good football team that we just beat,” Licata said. “But our kids made plays when we needed to. It was awesome to see.”
St. Mary’s junior JaQwan Manuel ran for 271 yards on 27 carries and three touchdowns. The 5-foot-5 speedster had scoring runs of 56, 60 and 21 yards –all in the first half – and kept St. Mary’s in the game as it trailed 28-26 at halftime. Manuel finished the season with more than 1,500 yards.
“He’s been our workhorse all season and he’ll be our workhouse again next year,” St. Mary’s first-year coach Matt Ard said. “He’s low to the ground and a very strong kid, so not only is he tough to see, but he’s tough to bring down. Once he gets to the open field, you ain’t catching him.”
Jennings threw for 189 yards to go with the four scores, including hitting sophomore Jeff Pilarski on a pair of touchdown connections, going for 38 and 34 yards in the first half. Pilarski finished with four catches for 95 yards.
“I told my guys we have to put on a show,” Jennings said. “Jeff and I have been working all season at it and today the passing game was clicking.”
Inabinett scored Timon’s first two touchdowns of the game, including finishing on a hook-and-ladder play that went for a 45-yard touchdown and started with a 10-yard completion to Pilarski. Inabinnet added a 9-yard scoring run and ran for 67 yards on 14 carries. Senior Brandon Laury added 82 yards rushing on 12 carries.
After a scoreless third quarter, Timon (3-6) put up what would be the game-winning touchdown on a 19-yard strike from Jennings to senior Thomas English on fourth-and-11 with 9:37 left in the game to extend the lead to nine. A third consecutive successful two-point run from senior Alex Reinhardt made it 36-26.
St. Mary’s (2-8) quickly responded as Chris Kobis finished off a three-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 36-32 with 8:06 left in the game. Manuel set it up a play earlier with a 56-yard run.
The Lancers’ Thomas Moss would fall on a fumble around midfield to give St. Mary’s the ball with 5:03 left but a drive that reached the Timon 34 stalled with less than two minutes to play.
“I cannot put into words how proud I am of this group,” Licata said. “The way that this group has stuck together makes me extremely proud to be a part of this family.”
Also for St. Mary’s, which like Timon made strides this season in rebuilding, junior Fred Johnson finished off a high-scoring first half with an 8-yard score, after he had a 36-yard scamper to key the drive.
“Early in the season, we were only playing a half of football,” Ard said. “In the last four games, we’ve had total efforts. We’ve played hard all four quarters. They were building toward this. From where they came from a few years ago, to where we are today, I’m very proud of where we’re going.”