At a time when St. Thomas Aquinas needed a lift most they got it from Nik Bonitto.
After going five consecutive quarters without points, the senior four-star defensive end at St. Thomas Aquinas, made a pair of key plays Friday night that broke the Raiders’ scoring funk and propelled them to a 14-0 blanking of visiting Deerfield Beach.
First, Bonitto tipped the ball up in the air near the Bucks’ goal line and caught in the end zone to break a streak of five quarters for Aquinas without points.
Then, he sacked Deerfield Beach quarterback Kyle Kaplan forcing a punt that gave the Raiders’ offense a short field. Aquinas cashed in moments later on a 10-yard touchdown run by Daniel Carter for its first offensive touchdown since Sept. 25.
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“I just read the play and got an interception,” Bonitto said. “We’ve been working on creating turnovers and trying to create points. I got to make plays for my team just to win so it was a great play.”
No one was surprised Bonitto, who finished with 2 ½ sacks and also forced a fumble, made those plays.
But Bonitto seems to be coming through with such efforts on a weekly basis.
And that’s a goal he set out to do in the offseason.
“Last year I didn’t play a lot,” Bonitto said. “I had some off-the-field issues so I wanted to prove something this year to the people that doubted me.”
Bonitto (6-4, 205 pounds) is being coached this season by former Miami Dolphin and Hall of Famer Jason Taylor, St. Thomas Aquinas’ defensive ends coach.
Bonitto credited Taylor as a big influence on him both on and off the field.
Bonitto’s leadership off the field according to Raiders coach Roger Harriott is what’s really helping him flourish as he prepares to make the jump to the college level next season.
“He’s shown exceptional growth as a player most impressive part of his development has been leadership,” Harriott said. “He’s now a captain of the team, a role model, and he exemplifies what it means to give a championship team effort. We’re really very excited about the direction he’s heading in.”
Bonitto, who’s being recruited by numerous major FBS programs, said he’s visiting the Universities of Texas and Oklahoma in the coming weeks, and said Louisville remains high on his list of suitors.
But his sole focus on Friday was to get an Aquinas team that was looking to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since 1995, back on track after a 12-0 defeat last week in Arizona against Centennial.
The Raiders, who suffered their first shutout loss last week since 1996, also avoided being shut out in consecutive games for what would have been the first time since 1965.
Aquinas’ defense, which ranks among the nation’s best, has only allowed one offensive touchdown this season and not allowed an opponent to score more than 12 points.
“We knew Deerfield had to come get it,” Bonitto said. “Last time we played them we lost 6-3 so that was still in the back of our minds too. We just played really hard as a team.”