Week 6: Aquin vs R. Christian
Heading into the final game of this shortened season, the only thing on the line was pride. Other items to check off the list were finishing strong. For the Aquin Bulldogs, however, it was one last opportunity to try and show they are the #1 team in state, and to set some records for individual performances. A tough argument can be said for the former, but the latter was accomplished.
The Bulldogs wasted little time to get the night started as QB Will Gustafson set the new NUIC record for most career offensive TD's with a 2 yard run just over 2 minutes into the game to put Aquin up 7-0.
After forcing the Royal Lions to punt, the very next series saw the Bulldogs drive 66 yards in just over 4 minutes. The drive was punctuated by a pass play from Gustafson to Brennan Carlson. Carlson made an exceptional reception, something we have come to see on a regular basis from him throughout his career. At the end of the play he was penalized for taunting, which set up a 35 yard PAT attempt for Evan Broge. Facing a stiff wind Broge was able to get enough distance, but had pushed the ball left. It clanked off the left upright and went through, however, as Aquin held a 14-0 lead with 4:28 remaining in the 1st quarter.
The Royal Lions would recover an onside kick attempt from the Bulldogs that them set them up at their own 40 yard line. A quick series of passes from Caden Norquist to Colin Elsbree and Isaiah Johnson, along with a Norquist keeper for an 11 yard gain had Rockford Christian in position to score. Just outside the red zone Norquist would drop back to pass and find Johnson open over the middle for a 21 yard TD. Ben Wood added the PAT to cut the lead to 14-7 for Aquin entering the 2nd quarter.
Right away in the 2nd quarter the Bulldogs would get on the board again as Gustafson now set a new Aquin record with his 52nd career rushing TD, breaking the previous mark of 51 held by Erich Awender and Brad Janecke. After Broge's PAT Aquin was up 21-7 with 11:12 still to play in the 1st half.
Gustafson would punch in his 3rd rushing TD, 4th total TD of the night with 6:52 still to play in the 2nd quarter as Aquin was now up 28-7.
On back to back possessions the Royal Lions would try to go for it on 4th from their own 39 yard line. Both times the Bulldog defense turned them away. The first time the Bulldogs quickly capitalized as Gustafson ran for his 4th TD of the night from 39 yards out to give Aquin a 35-7 lead. On the ensuing possession the Bulldogs tried to go to the air, but Gage Wiebe picked off a Gustafson pass.
Gustafson would get a little pay back on defense, though, as he stepped in front of a Norquist pass intended for Johnson and picked it off returning it to the Rockford Christian 18 yard line. From there, he would find Andrew Bowman on a TD pass across the middle that saw Bowman plow through 2 defenders at the 2 yard line and muscle his way in for 6. After Broge kicked his 6th PAT of the night Aquin was up 42-7 headed to the break.
The Royal Lions would continue to show the same grit they had all year. Opening the 2nd half with the ball at their own 35 yard line the would put together a nice drive after some good runs by Noah Ross, and a big strike through the air to Johnson. The drive would come to a stall however at the Aquin 19 yard line, as the Royal Lions were at the 8 yard line, but a false start and a sack ended up causing a turnover on downs.
The next Aquin possession would cover 81 yards in just under 5 minutes as the Bulldogs pounded the ground behind the running of Gustafson and Ty Stykel. Gustafson would break off a big 30 yard run that saw him get pushed out at the 1 yard line. On the run he tried to extend the ball past the pylon as he was hit going out of bounds. On the next play Stykel would finish the drive with a TD dive to get the clock running with Aquin up 49-7 at the end of 3 quarters.
The scoring would be capped just over a minute later as the Royal Lions were forced to punt. On the punt, Gustafson fielded it at his own 44 yard line. He grabbed the ball, paused, shifted to his left and then cutback to his right, picked up a downfield block towards the sideline and the rest was history. The score was Gustafson's 7th total TD of the night, putting his career total at 96 total TD's, and his 6 offensive TD's capped his career with 93 total.
During the game, Ty Stykel set a new Bulldog school record with his 4 sacks on the night. He chipped in 107 yards rushing for his 5th consecutive game eclipsing 100 yards on the ground. Will Gustafson finished the night with 232 yards rushing, 99 yards passing, and a 56 yard punt return for 7 total TD's on the night. He also added an interception on defense. Brennan Carlson had 1 reception for 35 yards and a TD, while Andrew Bowman had a reception for 18 yards and a TD. Christian Becke finished the night with 3 receptions for 46 yards.
The Royal Lions finished the night led by Caden Norquist who went 19-29 passing for 187 yards and 1 TD. Isaiah Johnson was his leading receive with 7 receptions for 93 yards and a TD. Gage Wiebe add 39 yards on 5 receptions and an interception on defense. Noah Ross led the ground attack with 51 yards.
This season will be debated on for a long time to come, but one can confidently say that the Bulldogs would have been a true title contender as expected this year, and the argument for #1 can be made, but they would definitely fall in the top 3 of the season regardless of how things could have turned out. They were one of the highest scoring teams in the NUIC over the past decade averaging 44 points per game and averaged over 436 yards per game. On defense they allowed 15 points per game.
The Bulldogs finish the season at 6-0, and will be moving to 8-man football this fall.
Rockford Christian was thankful to get a season after having no schedule this year to start the season. They finish with a 1-4 record and were a lot of fun to watch, while also helping fill the schedule to allow all teams to play complete schedules where they may not have had games otherwise.