High School Sports

St. Thomas Aquinas’ football championship run comes to a dramatic end

St. Thomas Aquinas’ Jaden Davis breaks up a pass play during the first quarter against Venice Indians wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh during the Class 7A state football semifinal at Powell-Davis Stadium on Friday in Venice.
St. Thomas Aquinas’ Jaden Davis breaks up a pass play during the first quarter against Venice Indians wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh during the Class 7A state football semifinal at Powell-Davis Stadium on Friday in Venice. Herald-Tribune

There are moments when the success of a football team is measured by specific times or events.

This was the case for defending Class 7A state champ St. Thomas Aquinas.

But the result Aquinas had hoped for, while seeking a fourth consecutive state championship, did not materialize. Instead, the Raiders fell to Venice 27-20 in the 7A state semifinal at Venice High on Friday.

The Indians (13-1) will play the for the schools’ second state title against Bartram Trail, a 34-29 winner over Tampa Plant, for the state championship Dec. 9 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.

“We told them that this is an inevitable part of life,” St. Thomas Aquinas coach Roger Harriott said. “We had our opportunities throughout the game and Venice played extremely hard.”

As much as the Aquinas offense had improved over the past six games, they struggled in many ways like the first seven game of the regular season.

Making matters worse was the Raiders defense found no answer to stop the Indians running game. Senior quarter Bryce Carpenter rushed for 158 yards on 41 carries and two touchdowns to lead Venice.

But it was converted running back Gregory Brandon 1-yard run with 6:12 left that gave the Indians the go-ahead lead. Aquinas had tied the score at 20-20 on Alex McCourt 40-yard field goal in the quarter.

Carpenter gave the Indians a 20-17 lead on a 12-yard run late in the third quarter. His first touchdown of the night came with 7:50 left in the second quarter.

Aquinas entered the game against Venice having won 17 of its previous 20 state semifinals game since 1983. Friday’s loss also snapped a five-game winning streak in the state semifinals.

It’s was also the Raiders (10-3) first loss to the same opponent after defeating them the previous year. They had won three in a row prior to Friday.

What got the Raiders to the semifinals after the seasons slow start was the move of Derek Wingo from tight end to quarterback and convincing retired offensive line coach Jay Connelly to return. Both went into effect in time for the Oct. 20 game against Boyd Anderson.

“We felt like it was time to give Wingo a shot to perform,” Harriot said. “He has been performing good results since.”

With the return of Connelly, the O-line has made significant strides that has helped the running game improve.

While the improvement showed it wasn’t there against Venice.

Wingo did pass for 183 yards, he needed 28 attempts to reach that total. As for the run game Danial Carter, who had 110 yards on 17 carries, 42 came on one play.

Most of Wingo’s yardage came in a 51-yard scoring pass to Taraves Kelly with 2:11 left in the first half for a 17-7 lead at the intermission.

St. Thomas had taken a 7-0 first quarter lead after Asante Samuel’s blocked punt was returned 81 yards for a touchdown by Jaden Davis

VENICE 27, ST. THOMAS AQUINAS 20

STA – Davis 81blocked punt return (McCourt kick)

STA – McCourt 43 FG

V – Carpenter 7 run (Sessa kick)

STA-- Kelly 51 pass from Wingo (McCourt kick)

V – Heiligh 4 pass from Carpenter (Sessa kick)

V – Carpenter 14 run (kick blocked)

STA – McCourt 40 FG

V – Gregory 1 run (Sessa kick)

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