Andre C. Fernandez: Road to Orlando in 8A full of intrigue

08/28/2014 2:00 PM

09/08/2014 8:17 PM

Miramar was three wins from an undefeated state championship season. An upset loss to Palm Beach Gardens thwarted those hopes and gave Homestead South Dade the chance to complete a Cinderella run to the Class 8A state title.

The Patriots are hoping to finish the job this season.

And at Flanagan, the Falcons believe it’s their turn to have a breakthrough state championship run with an offense that returns 10 starters and a defense that has developed some toughness under coach Devin Bush.

We all know St. Thomas Aquinas is in great shape to possibly win another national championship.

But the race to Orlando in Class 8A should be one of the most unpredictable and exciting in recent memory.

1. St. Thomas Aquinas: Reloaded around star defensive end Nick Bosa and bolstered by the arrival of talented athletes such as running back Jordan Scarlett, receiver Sam Bruce and defensive stalwarts Brandon Boyce and Rashard Causey, the Raiders are a national championship contender again.

Aquinas is deep at nearly every position, with tremendous skill-position talent, and is monstrous up front on both sides of the ball.

The Raiders’ chances of winning their third national title will be put to the test immediately when they face American Heritage at Sun Life Stadium, travel to West Point to face Don Bosco Prep (New Jersey) and come home to play Miramar during the first three weeks.

A state title looks likely for Aquinas if its blend of familiar and new talent gels and carries it through the Class 7A road to Orlando.

2. Miramar: After spending the past few years turning the Patriots into a powerhouse, coach Damon Cogdell accepted a college coaching position at West Virginia. Matthew Strout, one of his assistants, takes over this season and has no shortage of talent.

The Patriots are arguably the best team in Class 8A on paper with stars such as Tyrek Cole, Kendrell McFadden and Jovon Durante leading the way. Miramar will take on a tough schedule that includes American Heritage, St. Thomas Aquinas and American Heritage-Delray in the hopes of making it through a tough region that includes Flanagan, Monarch, Coral Gables and claim the school’s second state title.

3. Flanagan: The Falcons made the playoffs for the first time last season and return several starters from that team, including 10 on offense. Flanagan suffered a disappointing first-round loss to Deerfield Beach last season and believes it is ready to go on a run similar to Homestead South Dade’s unexpected surge to the Class 8A title. The Falcons must first find a way to get past rival Miramar, both in district play and in the postseason.

4. Monarch: Alabama commits Calvin Ridley and Shawn Burgess-Becker lead the Knights’ most talented group to date. Last season, Monarch hung tough with Miramar in the first round of the playoffs, giving it confidence that it can be one of Broward’s top contenders in Class 8A this season. Expect the Knights to be the front-runner in District 11-8A.

5. Hallandale: The Chargers fizzled toward the end of last season after a hot start and missed the playoffs. Led by an improved defense and still-potent offense, expect Hallandale to contend with Boynton Beach for the District 15-6A title.

6. Plantation: The Colonels are always solid and talented enough to be a playoff team once again. But that will likely be as far as it goes with St. Thomas Aquinas still in their district.

7. Deerfield Beach: Losing a talent such as Brandon Powell hurts. The Bucks, however, still have one of the best offensive lines in the county and should be good enough to return to the postseason and challenge Monarch for the district title.

8. Coconut Creek: The most improved team in Broward County has plenty of explosive weapons on offense and could find itself in the playoffs if it can score important wins down the stretch.

9. Blanche Ely: The always-competitive Tigers should be good enough to win the four-team District 14-7A. Succeeding beyond that point will be difficult, however.

10. Dillard: The Panthers are younger but still good enough to challenge for a return trip to the postseason.

11. Everglades: Veteran coach Art Taylor believes the Gators can break through this season. But they must find a way to upset Flanagan or Miramar.

12. Cypress Bay: The Lightning will still be a tough team to beat in District 12-8A with its power running game.

13. South Plantation: The Paladins should finish in the upper half of the district but will make the playoffs only if they can upset Monarch or Deerfield Beach.

14. Douglas: It might not yet be playoff time, but coach Peanut May has the Eagles improving every season.

15. Nova: Veteran coach Frank Hepler took over late and should keep the Titans respectable in a tough district.

16. Taravella: There are some skilled players who should make the Trojans fun to watch.

17. Stranahan: New coach Tally Adams will try to push the Dragons to a winning season.

18. Boyd Anderson: The Cobras are hoping to rebuild quickly and could make it back to the playoffs again without a winning record.

19. Hollywood Hills: Check out 6-7, 320-pound lineman Dusan Etienne, one of the biggest in the county.

20. Northeast: Former Hills assistant Chris Hay will try to revive the Hurricanes with a potent offense.

21. Fort Lauderdale: The Flying L’s got better last year, but they need to prove they can win district games.

22. Cooper City: The Cowboys need to be better on defense than last year’s average of 27.5 points allowed per game.

23. McArthur: Former Florida State University star linebacker Buster Davis will try to rebuild the Mustangs into contenders.

24. South Broward: With 19 starters back, the Bulldogs should win a couple more games this season.

25. Piper: Travis Liburd is one of the more underrated running backs in Broward.

26. Coral Springs: The Colts are changing their offense to a spread single-back option. Let’s see if it works.

27. Western: A tough rebuilding task for new coach Adam Ratkevich.

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