The top two sports programs in Broward County.
Both football teams ranked among the nation’s top five.
And yet it didn’t take long for St. Thomas Aquinas to show how big the gap was between it and American Heritage.
Led by senior Jordan Scarlett’s 131 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries, Aquinas routed American Heritage 38-7 in the first-ever meeting between the private-school powerhouses Friday night at Sun Life Stadium.
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St. Thomas (1-0), ranked No. 1 nationally by PrepNation and in the top three in every major poll, totaled 188 yards rushing and limited Heritage (0-1), ranked No. 5 by MaxPreps, to only 53 yards in the first half.
Aquinas scored 38 unanswered points through the game’s first three quarters, prompting a running clock.
“Our kids were jacked up because we hadn’t played a real game since the playoff loss to Dwyer last year,” Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo said. “We just played a team that was ranked top 10 in the nation, so this was a great win for our program.”
Plantation American Heritage, a first-time state champion last season, loaded up its schedule this season with opponents such as Miramar, Daytona Beach Mainland and Apopka to try and take the next step toward becoming a national-championship contender.
The Patriots’ game against Aquinas on Friday was part of that plan, and a chance to garner local bragging rights against a program with a rich history that includes seven state championships and two national titles.
Instead, Aquinas, which lost in last year’s Class 7A regional finals, looked like the program ready to recapture its old form with a convincing performance that should impress the national pollsters.
St. Thomas, which has a bye next week, has another chance to add to its résumé in two weeks when it travels to West Point (N.Y.) to take on Don Bosco Prep (N.J.).
“I think we made a statement that St. Thomas is here and will go all the way this season,” Scarlett said.
Scarlett, the top-rated senior prospect in Broward County by the Miami Herald, benefitted from stellar offensive line play as the Raiders dominated up front throughout the contest.
“The way [offensive line coach Jay] Connolly rides those kids, they have no choice but to be good,” Casullo said. “They really came through and did a tremendous job [Friday].”
After a penalty-riddled first quarter in which Aquinas led 3-0, Scarlett finally made the game’s first big play when he burst outside and ran down the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown.
“I thought I had a good performance but I have to hand it to my offensive line because they’re the ones that really stepped up,” Scarlett said. “When you see opportunities like that [62-yard run], you have to step up and take them.”
The tandem of Scarlett and fellow senior Deltron Sands, who had a 6-yard touchdown later in the half, figures to be one of the most potent statewide and arguably nationwide if they continue to be as effective as they were Friday night against a typically stout American Heritage defense.
Less heralded senior quarterback Jake Rizzo showed his potential value to Aquinas’ offense, choosing to run on several option plays, one of which he took 14 yards to the end zone to give the Raiders a 17-0 edge. Rizzo also completed 7 of 12 passes for 127 yards.
Aquinas’ defense kept his counterpart, American Heritage star quarterback Torrance Gibson, contained for most of the game. Gibson completed only 6 of 15 passes for 57 yards and ran for only 45 yards on seven attempts. His best play came in the fourth quarter when he evaded pressure and found Brandon Johnson for a 24-yard touchdown and the Patriots’ lone score.
“I thought our staff had a great game plan,” Casullo said. “We needed to bottle up Gibson and make them establish a run game. I thought our linebackers did great and made all the right calls. I’m extremely proud of this team.”
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