It’s rare that St. Thomas Aquinas enters any football game as an underdog, but that’s exactly the role it will be playing on Friday night in Las Vegas.
The Raiders (3-1), who are nine-time state champions, traveled to Sin City on Wednesday.
Once they land, they will continue preparations to face Las Vegas-based Bishop Gorman (5-0) in a game that will be televised at 10 p.m. by ESPNU.
Aquinas is ranked ninth in the nation by USA Today. The Bishop Gorman Gaels, who have won 44 games in a row and were ranked No. 1 in the nation at the end of the 2014 and ’15 seasons, are again ranked No. 1 by USA Today.
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Gorman coach Kenny Sanchez said on Wednesday that his team has immense respect for the Raiders, who were ranked No. 1 in the nation in the preseason before getting upset by Miami’s Booker T. Washington 27-23 in their opener.
“This is a huge deal,” Sanchez said. “Aquinas has an elite program.
“They could have a 2-3 record and still be a great program with the kind of athletes they have.”
Aquinas is far from having a losing record, however. In fact, the Raiders are much, much closer to being 4-0. The loss to Booker T. was controversial — it appeared Aquinas wide receiver Trevon Grimes scored in the final minute of what likely would have been a Raiders victory.
Instead, he was marked down at the 1-yard line, and a Booker T. blitz on the next play — coupled with Aquinas’ confusion as to whether it was going to run a play or spike the ball — led to a game-ending interception.
Since then, the Raiders have pounded the opposition, beating Miramar 42-6, routing Plantation 49-0 and disposing of Hallandale 42-0.
That’s what you call a response.
Forgive the Gorman players, however, if they are not shaking in their designer cleats.
The Gaels have scored at least 35 points in every game, and they have only played one reasonably close game, defeating California’s St. John Bosco 35-20. Bosco, even after the loss to Gorman, is still ranked 10th in the nation.
Gorman also beat Hawaii power Kahuku 35-7. Kahuku, even after the loss, is ranked 23rd by USA Today. The Gaels defeated Texas’ Cedar Hill, which was ranked fifth in the USA Today preseason poll, and Florida power Cocoa.
In terms of top prospects, Aquinas might have the best player on the field on Friday in Grimes, who is ranked 27th in the nation. The 6-4, 200-pounder is an Ohio State recruit.
“I got to see him run around at The Opening,” said Sanchez, referring to Grimes’ appearance at an offseason combine. “He has Sunday potential [NFL].”
Ironically, Gorman’s top recruit is also a receiver who is headed to Ohio State. He’s 5-9, 180-pound Tyjohn Lindsey, ranked 76th nationally.
Sanchez said Gorman has a dozen seniors with Division I scholarship offers, including cornerback Alex Perry (No. 155 on the ESPN list) and safety Bubba Bolden (No. 213).
Aquinas’ triggerman is senior quarterback Jake Allen, a University of Florida recruit. He is Aquinas’ other top-300 recruit on the ESPN list.
“He is your prototypical pocket passer,” Sanchez said of Allen. “He doesn’t seem rattled, ever.
“We’re going to have to play close to perfect to beat them.”