Class A-Private: ELCA 35, Aquinas 14

It looked as if Verenzo Holmes’ 99-yard kick return to open the game would be a foreboding sign of things to come for Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (11-3), but the Chargers’ electrifying offense and stout defense honed in on the Fightin’ Irish (12-2) and pounded away on the ground for a 35-14 victory. The Chargers scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win the school’s second championship and first since winning in 2012.

The Chargers relied on long drives to chew clock and wear down the Irish. ELCA scored its first points on a 12-play drive capped off by a Trevor Gear 2-yard run. Gear along with quarterback Donald Hammonds III grinded away at the Aquinas defense. Gear finished with 99 yards on 28 carries to help the Chargers rack up 313 rushing yards and outgain the Irish 365 to 265 in total offense.

Alex Usry made a 27-yard field goal with 9:16 left in the second quarter and drilled a 48-yarder as time expired to give the Chargers a 13-7 lead at the half.

Aquinas powered its way to a 14-13 lead on a 7-play, 75-yard drive halfway through the third quarter. D’Angelo Durham busted a big play and raced 43 yards of his team-high 98 to rumble into ELCA territory. Coach James Leonard was faced with a 4th-and-6 from the six and decided to trust his quarterback Liam Welch, who passed for 164 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on 15-of-29 passing on the day to give the Irish the lead. He tossed a perfect fade pass to the back corner of the end zone to Justin Gibbs to edge ahead with a one-point lead.

Aquinas held onto the lead into the fourth quarter, but with 11:53 to play, Hammonds shifted momentum. The ELCA quarterback who completed 5-of-9 passes for 52 yards also gained 109 yards on the ground and ran home two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. He broke off an 18-yard run and trucked over Verenzo Holmes to regain the lead 21-14, scoring on the subsequent 2-point conversion.

After the touchdown the Chargers forced a quick three-and-out. They drove eight plays and 69 yards capped off by Hammonds’ second score of the period, a 32-yard streak down the field, breaking a tackle along the way. The following drive Welch was picked off by Khaleb Hood at the ELCA 33. Aquinas got the ball back with 2:24 down 28-14. The Irish drove the field and scored on a 10-yard run with 38 seconds left, but the play was called back on a hold. Two plays later Welch was picked off by Hood for the second time, this time in the end zone. Hood raced the length of the field 100 yards to score with 12 seconds remaining to seal Aquinas’ fate.

“Our football team represents a great school, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy and ultimately we represent Jesus Christ and we praise him when we lose, when we got whipped last year here [49-7 loss to Mt. Paran] and we praise him when we win.” Said head coach Jonathan Gess.

Hammonds, a senior, went out a winner and told GPB’s Mark Harmon it was a thrill to end his career with a state title.


“This feels great. I feel great going out with this group of guys. We’ve been working since January. I just love every single one of those boys,” explained Hammonds.  “It means a lot to win this and go out with a bang.”

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