Not every team has a Hall of Famer as an assistant coach.
On Friday night, as St. Thomas Aquinas’ defensive players took the field, they got a simple message from recently-inducted former Miami Dolphins legend Jason Taylor.
“Have some fun,” said Taylor, who is in his first season as Aquinas’ defensive line coach, to one of his players just before kickoff.
Raiders’ defenders enjoyed themselves throughout a struggle with California powerhouse St. John Bosco, during which they made numerous plays necessary to pull off a 9-3 overtime victory in a battle of top five nationally-ranked teams.
“We never doubted our defense for a second,” St. Thomas Aquinas coach Roger Harriott said. “Our theme the whole week was faith. We were waiting for moments of adversity as we realized that’s when you become a better team and overcome some significant obstacles.”
The Raiders (1-0), ranked No. 5 by USA Today and MaxPreps, put themselves in solid contention for a third national championship with the victory over the Braves (0-1), who entered the game ranked as high as No. 1 in USA Today’s Computer rankings.
A year after heartbreaking losses to Booker T. Washington and Las Vegas Bishop Gorman kept Aquinas out of the national championship picture, the Raiders pulled off a close one on Friday.
“We just learned from our mistakes from last year and we just wanted to come out and prove something,” defensive end Nik Bonitto said. “I’m really proud of my team.”
The Raiders, who won national titles in 2008 and 2010 and have secured 10 state championships in their history, have one more out-of-state opponent on the schedule on Sept. 29 when they travel to Arizona to take on Centennial as well as matchups against Broward County powers such as Deerfield Beach and Miramar.
▪ Aquinas defenders recorded three interceptions and Bonitto made a pair of clutch plays late to seal the victory.
St. John Bosco amassed 144 rushing yards and 211 overall, but those three turnovers and two missed field goals by James DuChesne, the second of which sailed wide left with 1:52 left in the fourth quarter ultimately doomed the Braves.
▪ On Bosco’s overtime possession, Bonitto chased down receiver Colby Bowman after he took a toss from quarterback Re-Al Mitchell (Iowa State commitment) and looked to throw. Bonitto caught him on the far sideline on fourth down to end the game.
“We’ve just been preaching all week that it would be a tough game,” Bonitto said. “We just love making plays. We’ve been practicing against trick plays all week. I had faith in my job and I just made the play.”
▪ Bonitto sacked Mitchell forcing Bosco out of field goal range with the game tied at 3 on their final drive in regulation.
▪ Linebacker Adetutu Daranijo had an interception in the first quarter that led to Aquinas’ lone score in regulation – a 37-yard field goal by junior kicker William McConnell.
▪ Aquinas mustered only 62 total yards heading into overtime and still prevailed after quarterback Curt Casteel scored on the Raiders’ overtime possession on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
▪ Bosco had a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter but linebackers Jalen Mackie and Kaleb McCarty combined on two big stops on a goal line stand that forced Bosco to settle for a 26-yard field goal from DuChesne with 9:17 left to tie the game at 3-3.
▪ Jordon Battle, Daranijo and Asante Samuel each had interceptions. Samuel’s interception with less than two minutes left was another potential game-saver.
▪ Battle broke up a pass just before halftime in the end zone and kept Bosco from scoring. His interception in the fourth quarter with seven minutes left derailed another Bosco scoring chance.
“Some reporters said they were going to score 41 points on us,” Battle said. “I knew coming into the game they weren’t going to score seven points. When adversity strikes, we get motivated and that’s what we did tonight.”