Skill-position threats buoy Aquinas

Things were going swimmingly for Aquinas heading into the playoffs a year ago, as a fourth consecutive league title and a 9-1 record had the Falcons ranked No. 2 in the East Valley Division going into the playoffs. But maybe they were going a bit too well.

“I’m not going to say that we overlooked Yucca Valley, but I think we got a little too proud of ourselves,” Aquinas coach Nick Matheny said. “Yucca came and knocked us in the mouth and shocked us a bit.”

The Trojans scored 21 unanswered points in the first half and pulled off the 21-14 upset, as the Falcons ended their season before Thanksgiving for the first time since 2003, when they didn’t make the playoffs at all. That’s disappointment has served as fuel for Aquinas in the offseason.

Aquinas will also get fuel from its array of skill-position players it has returning, namely senior running back Burrell Handy (5-8, 165). Handy led the county in scoring as a junior, rushing for 1,377 yards and 22 touchdowns while serving as the workhorse of the offense.

Matheny’s goal this year is to give Handy a little more help in the passing game, as sophomore Raymond Padilla returns. Padilla (6-1, 175) threw for 692 yards and nine touchdowns while running for 682 yards and 13 scores and Matheny is hoping that he, along with senior fullback Frank Klementich (5-3, 155) and junior wide receiver Romero Flores (5-7, 165) assist Handy.

“We want to be a little more balanced so we don’t have to give the ball to Burrell 30 times a game,” Matheny said. “Raymond did a great job as a freshman and has worked hard on stepping back and passing from the pocket and we really think that we’ll be able to throw the ball a bit more with him this year.”

Aquinas will be new across the lines, as junior Richard Anhauser (5-11, 235) is the only returning O-line starter while senior Drew Ybarra (6-1, 240) is one of two defensive linemen returning. Anhauser will play middle linebacker for Aquinas while junior Matthew Hernandez (5-8, 165) returns from Injury to lead the Falcon secondary.

Aquinas schedule (Home games in CAPS, * indicates league game)

Sept. 2: DESERT HOT SPRINGS
Sept. 9: vs. Twentynine Palms (Twentynine Palms JHS)
Sept. 16: SAN PEDRO MARY STAR OF THE SEA
Sept. 23: LOS ANGELES BAPTIST
Sept. 30: vs. Riverside Notre Dame (Riverside CC)
Oct. 14: WESTERN CHRISTIAN*
Oct. 21: ONTARIO CHRISTIAN*
Oct. 28: CALVARY MURRIETA*
Nov. 4: at Temecula Linfield Christian*
Nov. 11: at Arrowhead Christian*