By Dan McDonald (Special To Acadiana Postgame)

Zach Ronquillo found new ways to get into the end zone Friday night, and that was a good thing for Ascension Episcopal.

But a Blue Gator team that has now scored 40 or more points in eight straight games showed in the opening round of the Division IV playoffs that it can also play some defense.
Ronquillo scored three different ways on his first seven touches of the game, and the Blue Gator defense more than did its part as the top-ranked team in Division IV rolled to a 45-7 win over district rival Highland Baptist.

Ascension Episcopal will play at home again in next Friday’s quarterfinal round, taking on a St. Frederick team that beat 2015 state finalist St. Mary’s 41-29 on Friday.

Ronquillo opened the game with a kickoff return for a touchdown, ran in for a touchdown midway through the second period, and caught a deep ball for a third score with 41 seconds left in the first half. At that point, AES (11-0) led 31-7, and the Gators added two more scores on its only two possessions after halftime.

“This one was kind of scary, when you’ve played a team early,” said Ascension Episcopal coach Matt Desormeaux. “The first game we had a lot of big plays early, and it was scary to think that we might not have the same intensity as last time. But we prepared the right way all week.”

The Gators had taken a 48-14 win over the Bears (4-6) back on Oct. 21, but since then Highland won its final two regular season games and scored 117 points in those two wins.
The Gator defense, though, rose to the occasion and pitched a shutout despite the yeoman efforts of Bear running back Brontre Griffin. The burly junior, who entered the game with 1,701 rush yards and 23 scores in only eight games, managed 138 yards but needed 29 carries to get there.

Griffin did record the Bears’ only touchdown, but that came on a 93-yard kickoff return in the final minute of the first quarter.

“Because of him they’re dangerous offensively,” Desormeaux said of Griffin . “He’s one of the best backs in the state. He plays hard and they’re good up front. Our defense stepped up, drove their feet and executed.”

That defense never had to play from behind after Ronquillo took a bouncing opening kickoff back 80 yards for a quick 7-0 lead only 13 seconds into the game.

“I’ve been off and on special teams all year, but they put me back there this week because they didn’t think it would get deep,” Ronquillo said. “It bounced right up to me, I saw a gap and I only had to make one man miss.”

Taylor Doss’ field goal on Ascension’s next possession made it 10-0 before Griffin’s kickoff return, but the Gators came right back one play later when Seth Kerstetter took a first-down jet-sweep handoff and went 58 untouched yards for a touchdown with 23 seconds left in the first quarter.

After a short Bear punt, the Gators only had to drive 37 yards and Ronquillo took a direct snap and went 12 yards up the hash marks for a 24-7 lead.

Ronquillo took several direct snaps as AES tried to spell regular quarterback Jake Vascocu, who was slowed by a nagging injury. Vascocu only had to throw six times in the game, completing four, and one of those was the 72-yard strike to Ronquillo down the right sideline that made it 31-7 just before the half.

“He came out and did exactly what we asked of him,” Desormeaux said of Ronquillo. “We put him in some positions that he really hadn’t played much before, but what he did was what we expect from him. He’s always the first guy here and the last one to leave.”

The Gators only ran 11 plays in the second half and Leo Franques had eight of those, two of them scoring runs of 12 and seven yards on his way to a 127-yard rush night. In all, Ascension rolled up 354 offensive yards on only 32 offensive plays, displaying an offense that averaged 47 points in its final seven games and has now scored 40 or more in eight straight.

But Desormeaux was more excited about his team’s defense. Griffin was held to 50 yards in the first half on 16 carries and didn’t have a rush over seven yards until the second half. Highland Baptist finished with 219 yards, all on the ground, but didn’t run an offensive play inside the Gator 25-yard-line until the final snap of the game.

“This felt really relieving,” Ronquillo said. “As a senior, you don’t want to take a chance that it’s going to be the last time you play. We have a goal to win a state championship.”

Ascension Episcopal 45, Highland Baptist 7
HB 7 0 0 0 -- 7
AES 17 14 7 7 -- 45
First Quarter
AE – Zach Ronquillo 80 kickoff return (Taylor Doss kick)
AE – Doss 31 field goal
HB – Brontre Griffin 93 kickoff return (Matthew Napier kick)
AE – Seth Kerstetter 58 run (Doss kick)
Second Quarter
AE – Ronquillo 12 run (Doss kick)
AE – Ronquillo 72 pass from Jake Vascocu (Doss kick)
Third Quarter
AE – Leo Franques 12 run (Doss kick)
Fourth Quarter
AE – Franques 7 run (Doss kick)

HB      AES
First downs           12        18
Rushing Yards     219      255
Passing Yards        0        99
Total Yards           219      354
Comp-Att-Int       0-5-1    4-6-0
Punts                    1-4       0-0
Fumbles-lost         2-0       0-0
Penalties-yards    4-30     2-28

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING – HB: Brontre Griffin 29-138, Ray Johnson 12-49, Hans Hensgens 6-20, Cameron Decuir 5-6, Alex Miller 1-6. AE: Leo Franques 16-127 2 TD, Zach Ronquillo 6-66 1 TD, Seth Kerstetter 3-70 1 TD, Jake Vascocu 1-minus 8.
PASSING – HB: Miller 0-4-0, Griffini 0-1-1. AE: Vascocu 4-6-0, 99 yds., 1 TD
RECEIVING – HB: none. AE: Kerstetter 3-27, Ronquillo 1-72 1 TD.