In my opinion

South Florida looks good for 3 more titles

 

A1fernandez@MiamiHerald.com

Miami Booker T. Washington dominated the state’s most successful program in Jacksonville Bolles for the Class 4A state title.

And Fort Lauderdale University School rallied from 17 points down for a dramatic win against Madison County in the 3A title game.

South Florida teams already have brought home two state titles. In what has already been a record year for participants from Miami-Dade and Broward counties at the state meet, could three more champions be crowned this weekend?

•  Class 7A state championship — Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (12-2) vs. Tallahassee Lincoln (13-1), 7 p.m., Friday, Citrus Bowl: The Raiders surprised many nationwide last week by beating Bradenton Manatee.

St. Thomas Aquinas, however, always believed it would be in this position.

Even after a 3-2 start to the season, team leaders such as running back Fred Coppet helped the Raiders regroup and ignore all the doubters that suggested that this was an inferior version of Aquinas football.

Since that point, St. Thomas has won nine in a row and stands one more from its seventh state championship that would move it into a tie for second on the state’s all-time list.

More impressive than just beating Manatee was the way the Raiders did it.

Aquinas rallied from an early 3-0 deficit and handled the Hurricanes 35-18 behind John O’Korn’s passing, Coppet’s running and the play of its offensive line.

The Raiders’ linemen dominated the line of scrimmage against one of the best defensive fronts in the country.

Their stellar play as well as the play of their defensive counterparts is a major reason St. Thomas will be in Orlando this weekend.

But if Aquinas is to clear the final hurdle, it must protect the football and not repeat the mistakes that cost it games early in the season. Lincoln brings a rich tradition of its own and an opportunistic defense that can change the game on a couple of big plays. Last week, it forced six turnovers against Kissimmee Osceola.

Aquinas has overcome too much at this point to let the championship slip away.

Andre’s pick: St. Thomas 24, Lincoln 21.

•  Class 6A state championship Miami Central (11-2) vs. Gainesville (14-0), 1 p.m., Saturday, Citrus Bowl: Once again, do-it-all running backs Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby found a way to rally the Rockets when the season was at stake.

Cook scored four overall touchdowns and Yearby had another as Central came back to win at Naples and survive one of the toughest road destinations in the state.

The Rockets are at state for the third consecutive season and must upend another undefeated team to claim their second state title during that span. Gainesville has its own talented running back tandem in Raphael Webb and Tony James and a solid quarterback in Mark Cato.

Gainesville is the favorite, but the Rockets still have the two most talented players on the field, and the latter has made the difference throughout this playoff run.

Andre’s pick: Central 41, Gainesville 38.

•  Class 8A state championship — Weston Cypress Bay (12-2) vs. Apopka (12-2), 7 p.m., Saturday, Citrus Bowl: The Lightning will really feel like a road team against the Orlando-area’s lone state qualifier.

Apopka hasn’t been to state since 2001 when it beat Miami Northwestern, but coach Rick Darlington’s team is one of the best he has had and is led by his son, star quarterback Zack.

Cypress Bay is a state newbie, but its coaching staff is far from inexperienced with Mark Guandolo taking his state-record third different team to state.

That experience should help on a squad that has been together for the better part of three seasons.

Andre’s pick: Cypress Bay 30, Apopka 28.

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