ON THE CUSP: Historic St. Thomas hope to capture first-ever TAPPS title
For the first time since 2001, the St. Thomas Eagles have advanced to the TAPPS title game.
It doesn’t come as quite a shock, given the expectation the team had prior to the season, although the dominant fashion (12-0; 4-0) in which they’ve proceeded has been something truly special for their fans.
However, it hasn't always come easily for coach Rich McGuire and company.
The Eagles have overcome various injuries to key players throughout the Fall including star RB Johann Cardenas, Michael-Anthony Okwura (Sr. DL) and Donte Lewis (Sr. QB).
“The good news for us at this point, is that we seem to be as healthy as we’ve ever been all season,” said McGuire. “But, the team has just been resilient no matter who went down. We have the ‘next man up’ mentality. Somebody else needed to make plays, which speaks to the team’s depth.”
Jamey Wright (VYPE)
While most eyes may veer towards Cardenas on the field – for good reason, considering he’s tallied over 2,200 yards rushing this season – St. Thomas has an entirely different threat behind center.
“He (Donte Lewis) is a different cat,” McGuire said. “He’s so dynamic athletically. People don’t realize he runs a 4.4 (40-yd dash) which is probably the fastest on our team. Just like in baseball, he’s got a cannon for an arm, and he’s so elusive on the field.
“I’ve coached a lot of good quarterbacks here, but Donte can hurt you just as badly with his legs than with his arm. I’ve been very blessed as a coach to have this kind of talent.”
St. Thomas' Donte Lewis (2022-23 Baseball Season)Bradley C. Collier (VYPE)
Following their 73-62 victory over Prestonwood Christian a week ago in the State Semis, the Eagles are now slated to face off against Parish Episcopal this Friday at the Waco ISD Stadium.
While their offense has been a juggernaut, it will be the defense that decides the outcome, according to McGuire.
“It starts with the age-old adage – don’t turn the ball over, don’t make mistakes,” he said. “We’ll need to play clean offensively. At this point in the season both offenses are good, and the same can be said defensively. So, at the end of the day it’s going to be a matter of which defense steps up and gets the necessary stops.”
Said defense stops for St. Thomas will likely be a result of performances from the aforementioned Michael-Anthony Okwura (Cal-commit), senior LB Tyler Day (Rice-commit), and Aron Valentine (Sr. S).
The last time St. Thomas has won a TAPPS state championship dates back to 1996. Given the significance of the occasion, what’s going through the mind of the long-time St. Thomas coach?
“I tell the guys all the time that if we get a gold ball on Friday, I may just get an Uber, drive to my lake house in Oklahoma with the ball and never look back,” McGuire laughed. “All kidding aside, I’m still going to be around no matter what happens. This game and these kids definitely keep me young.”
Tune in Friday to see if St. Thomas can finally end their championship drought once and for all.