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Offensive line leads Aquinas to victory over Cypress Bay

For the second week in a row, St. Thomas Aquinas’ offensive line made its share of early mistakes.

It was called for false starts, holding and clipping penalties.

But for the second week in a row, the Raiders’ big boys got their act together in the second half and dominated the line of scrimmage, propelling Aquinas to a 29-3 run and a 43-17 victory at Cypress Bay Friday night.

Quarterback John O’Korn had another huge week, rushing for 86 yards and two touchdowns and completing 12 of 21 attempts for 138 yards and two more touchdowns. Fred Coppet, meanwhile, ran for 143 yards on 13 carries.

His 71-yard touchdown run with 5:29 remaining made it 36-17 and ultimately extinguished any life the Lightning (1-1) had left as their worn out defense, which had held Aquinas to just 128 yards in the first half, wilted away late.

“It was the same thing as last week,” said O’Korn, who threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Corey Holmes on the opening drive of the second half to break a 14-14 tie.

“Mistakes and penalties just kill us early. As soon as we cut those down, we really feel like we own the fourth quarter. We really just take off and break away from teams in the second half.”

Last week, Aquinas (2-0) rallied from 11 points down in the second half to beat Miami Columbus 38-28 at Sun Life Stadium. Next week, the Raiders will host defending national champion Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) in a nationally televised game on ESPN.

Coach Rocco Casullo said his team, flagged eight times for 80 yards on Friday (6 for 65 in the first half), will have to cut down the mistakes next week.

“This group could be really good,” said longtime Raiders offensive line coach Jay Connolly, who has three former linemen — Sam Young (Bills), Marcus Gilbert (Steelers), Andrew Datko (Packers) — in the NFL. “You just can’t keep making the same mistakes we’ve been doing early against really good teams.

“What’s helping us out is our kids are in great shape. Our strength coach [Rob Biasotti] did a great job this off-season with them. Guys aren’t tired. So in the fourth quarter we do wear teams down.

Said Casullo: “Tonight, we dedicated the win to [Biasotti]. He wasn’t here with us because his mother passed away earlier this week.”

The Raiders line up from left to right with seniors Kyle Schafenacker (6-4, 285) and Zachary Provin (6-3, 265), junior Nicholas Linder (6-3, 270) at center, senior Austin Bland (6-3, 285) at right guard and junior Ryan Crozier (6-4, 280) at right tackle. Juniors Kai Absheer (6-5, 290) and Patrick Hubbard (6-1, 310) also see playing time. Schafenacker is committed to UConn. Bland is committed to FAU and Provin is committed to Colgate.

Early on Friday, it was Cypress Bay that was getting the plays it needed up front. The Lightning, which ran for 281 yards on 41 carries, took a 14-7 lead with 4:02 left in the first half when senior Josh Kaiser ran 68 yards untouched into the end zone on a fullback trap.

But what plagued the Lightning on Friday — aside from Aquinas’ strong offensive line — was the lack of a consistent passing game. Quarterback Jaranta Lewis finished with 93 yards rushing and had a lot of big runs including a few big third- and fourth-down conversions. But he was just 4 of 19 passing for 83 yards. N.C. State-bound running back Matt Dayes, meanwhile, provided 78 tough yards on 20 carries.

“Our offense was tremendous once again,” Casullo said. “Our special teams two weeks in a row had a bunch of great plays [blocked field goal, long returns]. Our defense struggled early, but some guys like freshman Nicholas Bosa, stepped up in the second half. That’s what it takes to win.”