The high school football season isn’t over — not quite yet.
Two weeks after St. Thomas Aquinas became the first Broward County football team to win three consecutive state titles, the Raiders (12-2) have one more 2016 challenge. On Friday night at 9:30, Aquinas will face a Utah state champ, the 14-0 Bingham Miners, in the Geico State Champions Bowl Series on ESPNU.
Is Aquinas ready to play?
“Based on the amount of energy we exerted in the state title game,” Aquinas coach Roger Harriott said of the 45-6 win over Tampa Plant, “we were a little apprehensive about playing another game. However, it felt like a typical week once we started our game prep, watching film, lifting weights, unit meetings and practices.”
The teams will play at The Star training facility of the Dallas Cowboys, located in Frisco, Texas. Aquinas is ranked No. 5 nationally by USA Today. Bingham, based in South Jordan, Utah, is ranked 12th.
The teams appear to be evenly matched. In the past four years, Bingham is 53-4 with three state titles. Of their four losses, two are to Las Vegas Bishop Gorman — including one in overtime. Bingham also lost to Miami’s Booker T. Washington, in overtime, in 2014.
In the past four years, Aquinas is 50-7 with three state titles. Aquinas’ two losses this season were to teams that have beaten Bingham. Aquinas lost to Booker T. in a game that came down to the Raiders’ final offensive play. Aquinas also lost in triple overtime to Gorman.
But despite the similar résumés, there is a perception that Aquinas is the mightier program. There’s the thought that there are more players and more speed overall in South Florida as compared to Utah … or pretty much anywhere else.
Miners coach John Lambourne, while certainly respectful of South Florida talent, has confidence in his program and his state.
“It’s a per-capita thing,” said Lambourne, who coaches a public school as opposed to Aquinas, which is private. “We probably have as many good players, per capita, as any state in the country.
“In the past 10 years, recruiting in our areas and a lot of out-of-the-way places has taken off. Ohio State has been here to recruit. Jim Harbaugh (Michigan’s coach) has been here. We get just about everybody coming over.”
The Miners have four of the top 25 seniors in the state, including No. 1 prospect Jay Tufele, a 6-3, 300-pounder ranked the third-best defensive tackle in the nation. Ohio State and Michigan are the top two on his list of recruiters.
Bingham’s other top seniors are defensive end Langi Tuifua, cornerback and BYU recruit Tongi Langi and offensive lineman and Vanderbilt recruit Cole Clemens.
Rust might be a factor on Friday — the Miners haven’t played since Nov. 18. But they don’t lack for confidence.
“I would be shocked if you don’t see a competitive game,” Lambourne said. “After winning state, our kids were spent pretty good. But they love football. The excitement of this game over-rides that.”