The biggest 305-954 matchup of the high school football season went off on Friday night when Carol City traveled north to challenge St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Chiefs hung tough in the first half, trailing by just 7-6 late just before halftime. But the Raiders, ranked No. 1 nationally by USA Today, proved to have too much depth and perhaps fresher legs as Carol City, which is in the middle of a brutal six game stretch, appeared to tire and St. Thomas cruised to an easy 45-24 victory at Brian Piccolo Stadium.
Thanks to a bye week and a lost game due to the Hurricane Dorian threat, it was just the fourth game for Aquinas, which improved to 4-0. The Chiefs, who have gone through a unbelievable gauntlet of Deerfield Beach, Northwestern, Central, Chaminade-Madonna and Jacksonville Trinity Christian (on the road) before Friday night’s game, fell to 2-4.
“Hats off to Carol City, the scoreboard is not really a true indicator of how hard a battle this was tonight,” Aquinas coach Roger Harriott said. “This was close into the third quarter before we were able to make some plays and start to pull away.
“I know it’s been a really tough stretch for Carol City with these series of games, and I know they might be a little nicked up. But I’m sure they’ll finish strong down the stretch and be a better team for it.”
A short 10-yard pick-six touchdown return by St.. Thomas cornerback Ja’den McBurrows two minutes before halftime gave the Raiders a 14-6 lead at the break and was the prelude to what would become a third-quarter onslaught.
“We were in a Cover 2 and I was trying to disguise it like we were in man coverage,” said McBurrows of his big pick-six right before halftime. “It felt good to make the play because I guess that really got us going in the second half. Just trying to do my best to help the team out.”
The Raiders drove 55 yards on just six plays to open the second half, with quarterback Zion Turner scoring from 12 yards out on a perfect read-option play to make it 21-6. After a short Noah Botsford field goal, McBurrows blocked a Carol City punt and Philjae Bien-Aime scooped up the loose ball and rambled 35 yards for a score.
Two plays into the next series, Katravis Geter coughed it up for the Chiefs, and Marcus Coqmard was right there to pick it up and bolt 30 yards for a scoop-and-score touchdown. Just like that, it was 38-6 with 3:08 left in the third.
To their credit, the Chiefs kept battling by scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns on a 9-yard run by Geter and 61-yard scoring pass from freshman quarterback Keyone Jenkins to Thaiu Jones-Bell to make it 38-18.
Carol City came right out and made an early statement when freshman quarterback Keyone Jenkins coolly led his offense right downfield on a 15-play, 80-yard drive to open the game. Faced with a fourth-and-goal at the St. Thomas 9 and no kicking game to speak of, the Chiefs went for it and Jenkins found D’Andre Stafford wide open in the corner of the end zone for a 6-0 lead.
But St. Thomas, led by Turner, who enjoyed a solid night by completing 15-of-24 passes for 162 yards, answered right back with its own long drive, going 67 yards in 12 plays. Running back Jaedon Henry went over from 5 yards out and Aquinas had a lead it would never relinquish.
“Nobody is out there feeling sorry for us and we sure as heck aren’t going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves,” said Carol City coach Joshua Taylor, who will now take his team on the road again next week to Ocala to play a very good Vanguard team. “We knew at the start of the season that this was going to be a tough stretch. No sulking allowed. If we dwell on the past or how tough it’s been, it will only get worse. We just have to hang tough and keep grinding.”