GAME OF THE YEAR
1. ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
VS. 2. BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
7:30 P.M., FRIDAY, TRAZ POWELL STADIUM.
St. Thomas Aquinas is a nine-time state champion so talented many rightfully consider them the best team in the country.
Booker T. Washington is a five-time state champion that hasn’t backed away from telling everyone that it is worthy of that No. 1 ranking.
They meet Friday night at Traz Powell Stadium in a matchup that has the potential to be about as good as any in the history of South Florida high school football.
We’ve seen Soul Bowl classics between Northwestern and Jackson, thrillers between Miami Central and Booker T., and nail-biting finishes between Aquinas and Miramar over the years.
This is a game worthy of being labeled No. 1 vs. No. 2.
I’m talking nationally, not just in South Florida.
Coming off a 51-0 rout of neighborhood foe Dillard in the preseason, Aquinas opens the real season ranked No. 1 by multiple national polls.
The Raiders are no strangers to this rarified air.
Aquinas has set the standard for high school football success in South Florida, winning two national championships and entering as national title contenders in several more seasons.
The Raiders are vying to win three consecutive state titles for the first time in their storied program’s history.
Led by coach two-time state championship coach and Aquinas alum Roger Harriott, the Raiders are aiming higher.
This clash with Booker T. is the first of two clashes with nationally-ranked opponents, along with a trip to play Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas in late September that could set them up for the national crown.
Under the guidance of former coach and current athletic director George Smith, Aquinas has maintained a quarter-century of excellence achieved by very few schools nationwide.
Booker T. has become a nationally-respected program while winning four consecutive state championships under three different coaches, and five since 2007.
And its architect, Tim "Ice" Harris, is back on the sideline this season, hoping to guide the Tornadoes to their second national title (2013).
From the first day of practice, the goal has been clear at Booker T. - win a national championship.
Beating Aquinas a week after taking a part nationally-ranked Plantation American Heritage should vault the Tornadoes right into the top spot in my opinion and set them up for another major tilt with rival Miami Central a month from now.
Last year’s game between Booker T. and Aquinas was no contest.
St. Thomas Aquinas routed an inexperienced Booker T. squad 40-3 in front of its home fans.
Expect the environment and the result in this one to be much different regardless of who wins.
That young Tornadoes squad exceeded expectations and won a state title, and has become that much better from the experience.
There really are no holes on Aquinas’ roster.
Both the offensive and defensive lines are huge.
Starting quarterback and UF commit Jake Allen is entering his second year in charge of the Raiders’ offense and has a group of receivers, led by Ohio State commit Trevon Grimes, that are the nation’s elite.
Their running game is led by multiple backs capable of being the featured option anywhere in South Florida.
And their secondary led by Asante Samuel is about as skilled as any in the country.
But this Booker T. Washington squad, while ranked as high as No. 6 by USA Today, probably should get even more recognition nationwide.
The Tornadoes have one of the top sophomore quarterbacks in Daniel Richardson making plays behind one of the biggest and best offensive lines the school has had in quite some time.
Booker T.’s defensive front is big and fast and can force most opposing quarterbacks into mistakes with their skilled secondary waiting to pounce.
Overall team speed could favor Booker T. Washington as will home-field advantage.
Sizing up both teams, Aquinas should win this game and remains the favorite until proven otherwise.
But remember, Booker T. has a knack for defying the odds and this team is hungry to make a statement on a national stage like this.