In an era where many of the nations best high school football programs earn the opportunity to play in nationally-televised games, few have had the success of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Raiders had a chance to add another notch to its impressive resume in the national spotlight Friday night at Brian Piccolo Stadium.
But costly miscues on special teams ended the Raiders recent perfection on the big stage with a 20-10 loss to Don Bosco Prep (NJ) in a game televised by ESPN.
St. Thomas (2-1), ranked No. 23 by ESPN, entered the game 9-0 in national TV games over the past five seasons including a 7-0 run against out-of-state opponents a list that includes Concord De La Salle (CA) and Camden County (GA).
Don Bosco Prep, the defending national champions according to every major poll last season, fell out of ESPNs Top 25 entering the week after having its national-best 46-game winning streak snapped by Baltimore Gilman last week.
But four miscues on special teams including a muffed punt return late in the game that set up Don Bosco Prep (1-1) for its game-winning score dealt the Raiders their first loss of the season.
If you make mistakes like that on special teams, bad things are going to happen, St. Thomas coach Rocco Casullo said. The special teams have been great the past two weeks. We really didnt expect something like this to happen.
Aquinas dueled Don Bosco Prep (NJ), the defending national champions by several polls last season, to a 10-10 tie into the fourth quarter. The Ironmen mustered only 114 total yards on offense. St. Thomas defense had two interceptions from Chris Washington and James Crawford.
Aquinas offense also gained plenty of yards, finishing with 293.
Raiders quarterback John OKorn threw for 165 yards, but completed only 8 of 24 passes and threw one late interception that ended a potential go-ahead drive with 8:53 remaining.
Don Bosco Prep broke the stalemate when Aquinas receiver Mark Barr ran up to field a punt near his own 10-yard line and could not control it. The Ironmen recovered at Aquinas 2 setting up Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks 2-yard run on the next play that gave Don Bosco the lead for good with 6:31 left in the fourth quarter.
St. Thomas never led in the game, and lost its chance to make a comeback after punter William Arpin couldnt control the long snap and Don Bosco recovered at the St. Thomas 34-yard line with 4:19 left.
Cameron Beals connected on a 30-yard field goal on the ensuing drive to put the game out of reach.
The defense came together tonight and played very well, Casullo said. They gave us opportunities we didnt take advantage of.
Don Bosco Prep blocked two punts earlier in the game, the first of which put it in front 10-0 in the first quarter.
Kyle Phipps blocked a punt deep in Aquinas territory and Isaiah Hill recovered it and returned it two yards for a touchdown.
The Ironmen scored their first points on a 27-yard field goal by Beals after capitalizing on a fumble by OKorn.
Aquinas rallied from the deficit behind some tough running by Fred Coppet and pinpoint passing by OKorn. Coppet delivered a 27-yard run that was followed by a perfect connection down the sidelines for 36 yards from OKorn to wide receiver Corey Holmes. The plays led to a 28-yard field goal by Alex Knight. Coppet finished with 112 yards on 27 carries.