In my opinion

Andre C. Fernandez: Miramar, St. Thomas Aquinas, and American Heritage eye semifinals

 

a1fernandez@MiamiHerald.com

A week after turning its battle of unbeatens with Deerfield Beach into a rout by flexing its muscle again in Class 8A, Miramar will try to take down one of Palm Beach County’s best.

St. Thomas Aquinas faces its greatest threat to its bid for state championship No. 8 against another Palm Beach powerhouse.

And American Heritage is back home after running all over Immokalee last week and hopes to move one step closer to its first state championship.

Will Broward County have a trio of teams at the Citrus Bowl in two weeks?

•  Region 3-8A final Miramar (12-0) at Palm Beach Gardens (8-4): Let’s start with the team most likely to keep marching toward Orlando this week.

Miramar thoroughly handled Deerfield Beach, totaling 497 yards on offense and holding the Bucks without a first down until just before halftime. The Patriots defense limited Deerfield to 45 total yards in the first half.

More good news for Miramar came after the win as one of its biggest potential obstacles in Class 8A, Bradenton Manatee, was eliminated by Fort Pierce Central.

Palm Beach Gardens upset two opponents — Lake Worth Park Vista and Palm Beach Central — to advance to its second regional final in the past three seasons. A big reason has been the play of senior quarterback JP Caruso, an Appalachian State commitment.

But it’s doubtful Caruso or the Gators have faced anything quite like the suffocating defense Miramar promises to play Friday night.

The Patriots know the road to a potential second state championship is a cakewalk with Fort Pierce Central and Apopka still alive and a potential date with either South Dade or Coral Gables in the state semifinals. They shouldn’t have too much trouble getting one round further this week.

Andre’s pick: Miramar 34, Palm Beach Gardens 7.

•  Region 4-7A final — St. Thomas Aquinas (10-2) at Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer (12-0): These two have dueled to a couple of low-scoring playoff classics in recent years, with Aquinas winning 10-7 in 2004 and Dwyer winning the most recent encounter, 6-3, in this same round in 2011.

This one could follow suit with both defenses capable of dominating their opposition. Aquinas is expected to get a boost with star defensive end Anthony Moten returning from injury.

But what the Raiders will need to knock off Class 7A’s top-ranked team is better offensive play from quarterback Wade Freebeck. The Raiders need to find their rhythm on offense early and score enough points to give their defense a chance against Johnnie Dixon and the Panthers’ explosive offense.

Andre’s pick: Dwyer 17, St. Thomas 14.

•  Region 4-5A final: Wauchula Hardee (11-1) at American Heritage (11-1): All season we have praised Heritage for having more than just running back Sony Michel. But Michel is entitled to still have a huge game every now and again.

After a huge performance against Immokalee on the road, the Patriots return home to face another tough out-of-town foe.

The Wildcats have a solid running game that averages 6.92 yards per carry led by Keyonte Holley and Timmy Steedley and the blocking of UCF commitment Luke Palmer. Even if they score some points, it will be tough for Hardee to contain a versatile Heritage offense as the Patriots try to continue their bid to become the ninth school in Broward County history to win a state title.

Andre’s pick: American Heritage 41, Hardee 27.

Andre’s record — Last week: 6-0; Season: 268-63.

NOTE: All games at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

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