The big play was a friend to the Prairie du Chien High School football team and an enemy to Aquinas at Veterans Memorial Field on Saturday afternoon.
The Blackhawks used first-half scoring plays that covered 66 and 83 yards to take control of the Blugolds and stopped them twice inside the 10-yard line on the way to a 32-14 nonconference victory.
Junior Tyler Smock rushed for 192 yards and caught three passes for another 100 to lead Prairie du Chien (1-0) to an impressive victory in its first game of the season.
“Nobody knew who (Smock) was coming into this game,” Prairie du Chien coach Jason Thiry said. “Now they do, and we hope he continues to play like that.”
Smock scored three touchdowns — he had scoring catches of 66 and 29 yards and an 83-yard run — to lead an offense that gained 498 yards and scored the first 25 points of the game.
The Blugolds (0-1) had a couple of defensive stands to open the game, but the Blackhawks still converted their first two possessions into 24-yard field goals by Cory Check.
They were moral victories for the Blugolds, but Thiry said they also provided his team with the comfort of a quick lead as it took the field for the first time with a new offense and new defense. The second field goal was set up by the recovery of an onside kick.
“The big plays hurt us,” Aquinas coach Tom Lee said. “We didn’t shut them out early, but we did hold them to field goals.
“But they just kept delivering body blows until, eventually, they hit that first big one.”
The first big one was a long pass from junior Gavin Gillitzer to Smock, who slipped behind the defense in the middle of the field and caught the ball in stride for a 13-0 lead. Gillitzer completed just six passes, but they covered 170 yards.
The Blugolds were held to one first down in the first quarter and struggled to get much of anything going offensively.
Aquinas ran 31 plays in the first half, and 15 of them gained 1 yard or less.
Quarterback Conley Malone handled the Prairie du Chien pass rush and managed to get throws off, but only a few turned into plays of more than 10 yards.
“I think everything was happening a little fast for him, but he’ll continue to get better,” Lee said of Malone, who was 8-for-21 for 73 yards, rushed for 68 yards and made no turnovers. “He was about a second behind, but he stuck with it.”
One way to for Aquinas to change that is to make improvements up front. The running game struggled and put added pressure on Malone before it reached the end zone with a drive late in the fourth quarter.
Aquinas drove 80 yards on 18 plays for its second touchdown — Malone connected with Jacob Savoldelli on an 11-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter for the first — and finished it when sophomore Lenny Boberg plowed in from the 1 on fourth-and-goal with 40 seconds left.
“I wanted to see the kids go out and compete,” said Lee, whose team was led by sophomore Jess Ondell’s 88 rushing yards. “Now, a lot of things didn’t go there way, but they kept at it, and I think it was important that they got in the end zone at the end of the game.”
While the Blackhawks performed well offensively, they also put together some big defensive plays to stop the Blugolds from gaining momentum.
Aquinas put together a long drive to open the third quarter, but they stopped Nick Schlicht for no gain and forced Malone into three incompletions after the drive reached the 5.
Prairie du Chien gave the ball back to the Blugolds on a fumble immediately after the stand, but three of Aquinas’ four plays on that drive went for no gain as it stalled out at the 6.
“The defensive stands were huge for us,” said Smock, whose team also received 88 rushing yards from senior Jacob Mallat and a 49-yard catch from Check. “And when we got the ball, we hit the ground running.
“We were an offensive machine today, and we just kept going and going and going.”