It’s a big-name Catholic school with championship tradition against a big-name public school with championship tradition, both meeting in South Florida in a highly anticipated game.
No, it’s not Notre Dame vs. Alabama in college football’s national title game — that’s next month.
It’s the St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders (11-2) hosting Bradenton’s Manatee Hurricanes (13-0) in a Class 7A state semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Manatee, which has won 25 consecutive games, including last year’s 7A state final, is ranked No.1 in the nation by USA Today, ESPN and MaxPreps.
Aquinas is not ranked in the top 25 by any of aforementioned polls.
“Manatee is the clear favorite,” said Corey Long, who covers Florida high school football for ESPN.com. “My guess is that Manatee will win by 14 points. I will be shocked if Manatee loses.
“Aquinas has the home field, but it doesn’t matter. They can play in [Raiders coach] Rocco Casullo’s backyard, and it won’t matter unless Aquinas makes plays.”
Both teams are high school football royalty. Aquinas has won six state championships, tied with Lakeland for the most titles by a Florida large school (Class 4A or higher).
Manatee has five state titles and could tie the record next week if it lives up to its ranking.
The Hurricanes have been especially impressive this year, beating three South Florida teams: Miramar, 41-6; Class 6A state semifinalist Miami Central, 44-34; and Class 8A state semifinalist Cypress Bay, 42-20. Miramar, by the way, beat Aquinas this season, 27-24.
In last week’s regional final, Manatee went on the road and routed Fort Pierce Central, 51-0. In fact, in three regional playoff games, Manatee won by an average score of 57-6.
Aquinas won its three regional games by an average score of 39-13.
This will be the third time in four years that Aquinas and Manatee have met in the state semifinals.
In 2009, Aquinas was ranked No. 1 in the nation and had to travel to Manatee, where the Hurricanes pulled the upset, 28-20.
In 2010, host Aquinas beat Manatee, 31-7, and the Raiders went on to win their sixth state title.
The teams nearly met in the state semis last year, but Aquinas lost to Dwyer in the regional finals.
Friday represents Manatee’s chance to atone for 2010. It’s also Aquinas’ opportunity to get payback for ’09, when it was where Manatee is now — No. 1 in the nation.
“These are two great teams with great history,” said Miramar coach Damon Cogdell, who played both this season. “I figure that the team that makes the fewest turnovers and penalties will win.”