Despite being denied one for the thumb, the collective performance of Miami-Dade and Broward countys high school football teams in the state playoffs was groundbreaking this season.
For the first time in the Florida High School Athletic Associations 50-year tournament history, six South Florida teams reached the finals and four University School (Class 3A), Booker T. Washington (4A), Miami Central (6A) and St. Thomas Aquinas (7A) came home with crowns.
In a talent-rich area of the country that produces gridiron superstars who shine on college football Saturdays and NFL Sundays, that might sound like par for the course. But South Florida has never had it this good.
In fact, most experts are having a hard time figuring out who the best team in the state is. But the conversation begins and ends with the four local teams.
The consensus opinion though hardly unanimous I got from media in attendance is that while University School finished the year as the states only unbeaten team, St. Thomas Aquinas ended it as the best, said FlaVarsity.com football analyst John Patton, who seeded a make-believe tournament of champions this way: 1. University; 2. St. Thomas Aquinas; 3. Central; 4. Booker T.; 5. Apopka; 6. Cypress Bay; 7. Tallahassee Godby; 8. Gainesville.
My thought is that the top seeds would hold up until the final where STA would edge University School, Patton said.
Its hard to argue the Raiders (13-2) didnt finish their season playing better than anybody else in the state, upsetting No. 1-nationally ranked Bradenton Manatee in the semifinals before pounding a very good Tallahassee Lincoln team 41-25 in the finals. Manatee beat Central 44-34 in September and took care of 8A runner-up Cypress Bay 42-20 in October.
But as good as Aquinas quarterback John OKorn (2,552 passing yards, 22 TDs, 4 INTs) and tailback Fred Coppet (1,436 yards, 17 TDs) were this season, some wonder if the Raiders could have put up enough points to contend with the Rockets dangerous backfield tandem of Dalvin Cook (1,452 yards, 21 TDs) and Joseph Yearby (1,448 yards, 20 TDs).
I thought Central was the best team overall, said ESPN.com high school and recruiting writer Corey Long, who seeded the top five teams in the state after back-to-back championship weekends the following way: 1. Central; 2. Booker T.; 3. University; 4. Apopka; 5. Aquinas.
They didnt have many big names besides [Oklahoma-bound safety] Ahmad Thomas on defense, but they were a solid team across the board. [coach] Telly Lockette did a great job and made sure Central stayed true to themselves, running the football and playing behind that big, physical offensive line.
They also played the toughest schedule in the nation. Their losses were on the road at Grayson (Ga.), at Manatee both of those teams were ranked No. 1 in the country at one point. Central then came back from 19-3 down at halftime to beat Booker T., and came back from 24-7 down at an undefeated Naples to win a semifinal on the road.
And then they crushed a very good Gainesville team 37-14 in final. It wasnt really that close. That Central team isnt scared of anybody.
Charles Fishbein of Elite Scouting Services believes Aquinas, Central (12-2) and Booker T. (13-1) are all worthy of the top spot, but in a round robin tournament he would take coach Ice Harris Tornadoes because of "their ability to strike quickly" behind talented junior quarterback Treon Harris.