St. Thomas Aquinas ready for Superdome showdown with John Curtis

Two of the most storied programs in the nation will battle when St. Thomas Aquinas travels to New Orleans to face John Curtis Christian.

09/11/2013 12:00 AM

09/08/2014 6:51 PM

St. Thomas Aquinas has won in Texas, Alabama and Ohio.

The Raiders have won at famous venues such as Cowboys Stadium and Paul Brown Stadium.

They want to add Louisiana and the Superdome to that list Friday night.

But Aquinas has never faced an opponent on the road with the extensive championship tradition of John Curtis Christian.

Aquinas (1-0) takes on John Curtis at 10 p.m. Friday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as part of the third annual Sugar Bowl Prep Showcase. The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Florida.

Aquinas has defeated some of the nation’s best programs, including Concord De La Salle (Calif.) and Byrnes (S.C.) in recent years.

John Curtis rivals both programs’ traditions — as well as Aquinas’ own seven state and two national titles — with 25 state titles in the past 44 seasons.

The Patriots (1-0), ranked fourth nationally by USA Today, are also the consensus defending national champions and enter Friday’s game on a 29-game winning streak.

“John Curtis is a tremendous program there’s no doubt,” St. Thomas coach Rocco Casullo said. “We’ve watched a lot of film on them over the summer. That’s going to be a tremendous challenge for our program for sure.”

Aquinas is a perfect 4-0 in out-of-state games since 2008.

But the Raiders’ last experience against an out-of-state opponent — and a defending national champion — didn’t go so well.

St. Thomas Aquinas lost at home last season to Don Bosco Prep (N.J.), the reigning national champions at the time, snapping a nine-game winning streak in nationally televised games.

Following Aquinas’ dominant performance against Miami Northwestern on Aug. 31, the Raiders have moved as high as No. 3 in the polls (MaxPreps and PrepNation.com).

With one South Florida team — Miami Booker T. Washington — entrenched in the No. 1 spot, a victory over Curtis would likely put the Raiders in position to contend for a third national championship since 2008 should Booker T. slip.

“As far as the game goes, it’s the same feeling as we had before we played at Sun Life Stadium,” said Aquinas running back Mardre London following the win over Northwestern.

“[Sun Life] has held BCS championships and Super Bowls just like the Superdome. We just have to come out and play St. Thomas football.”

John Curtis, located about 10 miles from New Orleans in River Ridge, La., is a national powerhouse with a small-town atmosphere.

Its coach, J.T. Curtis, is the son of the school’s founder, and only the second coach in the nation to eclipse the 500-win plateau with an overall record of 521-54-6.

“[John Curtis] is a national power, but it’s truly a local community school whereas Aquinas is one of the largest private schools in the country,” said Stephen Spiewak, National Football Editor at MaxPreps. “Many of the teachers, coaches and administrators at Curtis are somehow related to the Curtis family.”

The Patriots run a veer option offense that presents a big challenge to Aquinas’ vaunted defense that’s led by seniors Anthony Moten, Al Harris and sophomore Nicholson Bosa.

Casullo recently praised new defensive coordinator Bill Tierney, who came over from Don Bosco Prep, for helping the unit become more formidable.

“Tierney did a great job against Northwestern, and I think his New Jersey coaching background helps him because there run-heavy offensive schemes are more common than I think they are in South Florida,” Spiewak said. “That experience should help.”

In their opener, the Raiders held Northwestern to 135 total yards and a field goal in a 38-3 rout.

“I like this group a lot,” Casullo said after the Northwestern game. “They carried over the momentum from last season and have really gelled together.”

Added London: “We have the best defense in the nation. We’ve been working hard since February and we want to follow up our state championship.”

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