In less than two weeks, St. Thomas Aquinas’ football team went from being a national-championship contender to facing a once-unthinkable, two-game losing streak.
But on Saturday night against its toughest Broward County foe the past three years, the Raiders might have gotten their season back on track.
Aquinas blocked two punts and its defense recorded a key interception that led to 13 fourth-quarter points and a 20-12 comeback win over host Miramar.
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The Raiders (2-1), still ranked in the top 20 nationally in every major poll after last week’s road loss to Don Bosco Prep (New Jersey), snapped a losing streak to Miramar (2-2) at three games.
“Wins like this bring programs together,” Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo said. “We worked really hard on special teams and defense and you saw the difference [Saturday night].”
Aquinas was facing a potential fourth defeat in a row to Miramar trailing 12-7 heading into the fourth quarter.
Then, senior Lance Deveaux Jr. shot through the line and partially blocked a punt by David Campbell.
That led to a 27-yard field goal by Zachary Cicero to cut the deficit to 12-10.
After the ensuing Miramar drive, Aquinas’ blocked a second punt.
This time, senior Tyson Cisrow broke through and smothered the ball as Aquinas gained possession at the Miramar 5-yard line. The Patriots defense held Aquinas to another Cicero field goal, however, that gave the Raiders a 13-12 lead.
Aquinas’ defense, which had held tough throughout the game despite an offense that struggled to gain much momentum, made a huge play when senior Rashard Causey hit Miramar receiver Kevin Purlett just as he tried catching a pass, jarring the ball loose and allowing senior Velvario Faulkner to intercept the ball and return it to the Miramar 7.
On the following play, Aquinas junior running back Devonta’e Henry Cole swept around the left side for a 7-yard touchdown run to put Aquinas ahead 20-12.
Aquinas has blocked five punts in its first three games this season.
“Our special-teams coach Tim Conrad is one of the best in America, and he got these guys fired up this week,” Casullo said. “We were finally finished on the good end of one of those games in those phases of the game.”
Aquinas’ defense, propelled by a sack from Nick Bosa, made the final defensive stand, forcing the Patriots to punt and ending any chance of a comeback.
Frustration set in on Miramar’s side during the final series as offensive lineman Stewart Boyd got into a skirmish with one of his teammates and had to be forcibly restrained and later escorted off the field by his coaches.
“This was the most emotional win I’ve ever played in,” Cisrow said. “We knew if we practiced hard we could beat them. I was a second late on a few punts, but I finally got through and got one.”
Aquinas junior quarterback Blake Dever started in place of injured Jake Rizzo. The Raiders also had three key defensive players injured.
Aquinas’ offense struggled early on as it did against Don Bosco Prep, gaining only 2 yards until late in the first quarter when a 28-yard run by Deltron Sands set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Jordan Scarlett to give St. Thomas a 7-0 lead.
Miramar answered late in the first half when quarterback Demari Simpkins broke loose on an option keeper and scored from 47 yards out to tie it at 7.
The Patriots recorded a safety early in the second half when they sacked Dever in the end zone.
Miramar drove into the red zone on the ensuing possession. But Aquinas’ defense limited the Patriots to a Campbell 32-yard field goal and only a 12-7 edge.
“Beating Miramar here means a lot because they have gotten the best of us for years,” Bosa said. “There were points in this game we thought it was going to end the same but we kept our heads up.”