It was high drama and heartbreak all wrapped into one late Friday night into early Saturday morning for the St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders.
Not once but twice the Raiders were close to ending No. 1 nationally ranked Bishop Gorman’s 44-game winning streak. But it never happend as the Gaels somehow found a way to pull out a dramatic 25-24 triple overtime win at Fertitta Field in Las Vegas in a nationally televised game on ESPN.
After St. Thomas had taken a 24-17 lead on the first possession of the third overtime on a second down 1-yard plunge by Mike Epstein, the Gaels scored on their first play of overtime when quarterback and Ohio State commit Tate Martell found Jailen Nailor on a quick slant for a 10-yard score.
Gorman head coach Kenny Sanchez sent the extra point team out but when the Raiders got called for off sides moving the ball to just outside the one, Sanchez rolled the dice and went for two.
Running back Biaggio Walsh took a pitch to the left, cut back inside and was met at the one by Aquinas linebacker Jaden Davis but his momentum carried him into the end zone for the game-winning two pointer.
It was the first two overtimes that the Raiders will really be kicking themselves over.
After quartback Jake Allen found Jordan Merrell for a 10-yard scoring pass on the first play of the first overtime to stake the Raiders to a 17-10 lead, Bishop Gorman was down to its last down, fourth-and-goal from the seven. That’s when Martell drilled a low bullet to Nailor on a slant pass in the end zone to take it to a second overtime.
But it was the second OT that was killer for St. Thomas.
When linebacker Drew White led a charge that stuffed Martell on fourth-and-goal from the one on the first possession of the second overtime, it appeared the Raiders, needing only a field goal, were going to pull off the upset.
Aquinas head coach Roger Harriott sent out the field goal team on third down for a 25-yard Marco Salani field goal attempt.
But Gorman’s Bubba Bolden leaped over Aquinas long snapper Nick McDonald high into the air and just barely nicked Salani’s kick.
The ball looked like it might clear but bounced back off the crossbar forcing a third overtime.
St. Thomas, ranked No. 9 and No. 7 nationally coming in by USA Today and Max Preps, respectively, tied the game 10-10 on the final play of regulation when Salani drilled a 24 yard field goal
The Raiders had a first and 10 at the Gaels 14 with a minute to go but and handed off to Epstein three times in a row up the middle.
Trailing 3-0 at halftime, St. Thomas took a 7-3 lead midway through the third quarter on a fancy reverse play to Michael Harley who then squared up and hit Trevon Grimes in stride for a 53-yard touchdown.
The Raiders appeared poised to extend that lead when they were at the Gorman 11. But on the first play of the fourth quarter, they tried the same play again. Only this time, Harley’s pass to Grimes in the end zone was underthrown and picked off by Bolden.
To make matters even worse, Grimes was severely injured on the play and had to be carried off the field. He was later taken off in a stretcher with his left knee heavily bandaged.
Gorman then proceeded to put an 80-yard, nine play drive together with Martell finding his favorite target, Nailor for a 16-yard touchdown pass to put the Gaels up 10-7 with 7:35 left.