Miramar coach Damon Cogdell said his players didn’t like that his team this week was reminded its win over St. Thomas Aquinas last year was tainted by a controversial finish.
The Patriots made sure there was none of that Friday.
Miramar suffocated the Raiders’ running game, sacked Wade Freebeck five times and then rallied on offense behind a few big plays from senior tailbacks Eric Pittman and Cameron Rigby to pull off a thrilling 22-20, come-from-behind upset at Aquinas.
The Raiders, who came in ranked as high as No. 3 nationally in the USA Today poll and following a win over defending-national-champion John Curtis in New Orleans, were held to 14 combined rushing yards on 29 attempts.
“If there’s a better team than them in 8A, we’ll then watch out for Miramar,” Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo said. “Every year we play them they play a good game. You can’t make mistakes. We made mistakes.
“Even though we had that win last week against John Curtis, this is a different animal. The best football is in South Florida and they knew that. Miramar, they’ve got speed, they’re big guys and you have to take advantage of every opportunity you have.”
Trailing 20-13 entering the fourth, Miramar (4-0) used a 58-yard punt and an Aquinas blocking penalty to pin the Raiders (2-1) at their own 4-yard line. Two plays later, Cogdell called a blitz and linebacker David Lee tackled running back Deltron Sands in the end zone for a safety with 9:55 remaining.
“We saw the formation, watched a lot of film, knew what the play was,” middle linebacker Ryan Samuels said. “So me and David Lee said, ‘Let’s get him.’ I came in from the inside and he came from the outside. David got the safety.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Pittman caught the ball at his own 25 and raced across the field, zig-zagging his way to the Aquinas 25. Four plays later, Rigby punched the ball in from 3 yards out with 9:20 remaining, giving Miramar a 22-20 lead it did not give up.
“I had to finish for my team,” said Rigby, who ran for 35 yards on 10 carries, most of it coming in the fourth-quarter drive that helped kill the clock.
“Everybody was clapping me up, saying ‘finish for us, finish for us.’ I finished for my team.”
Aquinas appeared headed to an easy victory in the first quarter, taking a 10-0 lead following a blocked punt and an 8-yard touchdown run by tailback Madre London.
But the momentum quickly turned.
On Miramar’s next play from scrimmage, offensive coordinator Travis Johnson called for a hook-and-lateral play. Quarterback Nick Jeanty threw a quick outlet to Kwasim West, who pitched the ball back to Pittman. He did the rest, cutting back and forth across the field and getting all the way down to the Raiders’ 1-yard line. Jeanty scored on the next play.
Miramar used the momentum to turn the tables on Aquinas’ offense and took a 13-10 lead into the half thanks to 42- and 33-yard field goals by kicker David Campbell.
Trailing 22-20, Aquinas gained one first down after Miramar took the lead. But the Raiders then went backward and punted.
Junior defensive back Tyson Cisrow then made what looked like a momentum-swinging play, blocking a Miramar field-goal attempt from 23 yards out and giving Aquinas possession at its own 25 with 2:20 to play.
But Freebeck and the Raiders offense never got going. A third-down pass went through the hands of Notre Dame-bound senior Corey Holmes. Then on fourth-and-16, Freebeck was sacked for the final time by linebacker Alexander Trotman and defensive end Kahlil Roan.
All that was left to do was take a few kneel-downs and run out the clock — a stark difference from a year ago, when Miramar scored a controversial touchdown in overtime to knock off Aquinas.
“It means a lot,” Cogdell said of his team’s third consecutive win over the seven-time state champions. “We were underdogs in every poll. It’s almost a slap in the face every year. We have a pretty good ballclub and never get the recognition. Hopefully we start to get it now.”