Two years ago, St. Thomas Aquinas tied a playoff era record with seven shutouts in a season.
It was an impressive stat, since the mark was previously held solely by Piscataway’s 2004 team, which not only went 12-0 en route to a state championship, but also had three future NFL Draft picks, including Malcolm Jenkins, Kyle Wilson and Anthony Davis.
Some pointed to the schedule, which admittedly wasn’t the strongest. But ask any coach, and they’ll tell you any shutout in high school – achieved by student-athletes who are barely old enough to get behind the wheel – is a feat unto itself. It only takes one moment of losing focus; one blown coverage can turn that goose egg into a touchdown.
So, the Big Central Conference put them in a more challenging division for the 2022-2023 scheduling cycle.
All the Trojans have done is go 16-2 since then. They had two shutouts last year, and one regular season loss. This year, they have blanked four opponents: New Providence, Cranford, Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Hillside.
They have also won 23 straight against Big Central Conference opponents, more than anyone else in the league at this point, dating back to its inaugural season. STA’s last loss in BCC play came on November 12, 2020, by a 40-6 score to Bernards.
With a 7-0 record and a 1.6 UPR, they are in second place in the Non-Public North B standings, right behind 5-1 Red Bank Catholic, with a 1.4 UPR. They have the highest Strength Index value in the Big Central conference at 89.42, just ahead of the Caseys on the statewide list. They have an 89.29 SI value. In the world of the the Strength Index, that’s a toss-up game.
But the non-public sections are seeded by an NJSIAA committee, not based on pure numbers. The criteria says that traditional power points, OSI and UPR are considered by the committee.
And last year, Aquinas was passed over for a first round home game and passed by teams with not nearly a similar record.
They finished third in the UPR standings, fourth in OSI, and had the highest power point total in Non-Public Group B. Yet they were seeded lower than all those metrics – at No. 5 – while DePaul, which was 4-5 at the cutoff, was seeded ahead of them. The Trojans played at fourth-seed Holy Spirit, where they lost 50-21 in the opening round.
So, with apologies to Rodney Dangerfield, will Aquinas get some respect this year and get a home game? Their resume may be even better. They’re also a multiplier this year for the first time, which they earned – in part – by beating a multiplier in St. John Vianney – on the road – on the non-public cutoff weekend last year.
Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with St. Thomas Aquinas coach Tarig Holman about the Trojans’ continued success, and their quest to host a playoff game this season: