St. Thomas Aquinas dealt with some adversity throughout this week.
But two days after learning it had five players suspended in the wake of last week’s postgame incident, the Raiders relied on their depth to cruise to a 50-10 rout over Mater Academy in the Region 4-7A final at Milander Park.
Aquinas (10-2), ranked ninth in the nation by USA Today, advanced to the state semifinals for the third consecutive season.
The Raiders, who are attempting to become the first Broward County team to win three state championships in a row, will host Venice next Friday in a Class 7A state semifinal.
“This was a life learning lesson, and we had to take it as a opportunity to help our guys progress in a difficult circumstance,” Aquinas coach Roger Harriott said.
“As coaches, we need to make sure they do the right thing and learn what that is both on and off the field.”
The Raiders were without Tyler Dunning, Elijah Moore, Jason Munoz, Marcus Dumervil and Ryan Maine, who were confirmed by a source to have been the five players suspended in the wake of a postgame brawl with Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer following last week’s regional semifinal.
Five unnamed Dwyer players were also dealt suspensions by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
The FHSAA, which stated earlier this week that the investigation into the incident is still ongoing, said it will likely be completed by next week and if there are further penalties it will be announced then.
Senior quarterback Jake Allen completed 14 of 17 passes for 178 yards and threw three touchdown passes as Aquinas scored 27 unanswered points to force a running clock in the fourth quarter.
Senior running back Mike Epstein ran for two touchdowns and finished with 76 yards on 13 carries.
Kyshaun Bryan also ran for a game-high 118 yards and scored a touchdown for the Raiders.
But Aquinas could be without Bryan for next week’s game after he was ejected from the game late after he was tackled and had a physical exchange with a Mater Academy defender.
An ejection typically results in a minimum one-game or seven-day suspension.
Mater Academy (10-2), which advanced to the regional final for the second consecutive season, cut Aquinas’ lead to 23-10 early in the third quarter when quarterback Kaywon Hanna found Marcus Lodge for a 12-yard touchdown pass.
But Aquinas answered with its running game as Epstein and Bryan each had long carries on a drive that culminated with Epstein scoring from 13 yards.
“It’s incredible what we’ve been able to do with this program in only two years,” Mater coach Rocco Casullo said.
“We hung for three quarters with one of the best teams in the country, but at this point it really comes down to depth. But we can build off this.”