In an era where many of the nation’s best high school football programs earn the opportunity to play in nationally-televised games, few have had the success of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Raiders had a chance to add another notch to its impressive resume in the national spotlight Friday night at Brian Piccolo Stadium.
But costly miscues on special teams ended the Raiders’ recent perfection on the big stage with a 20-10 loss to Don Bosco Prep (NJ) in a game televised by ESPN.
St. Thomas (2-1), ranked No. 23 by ESPN, entered the game 9-0 in national TV games over the past five seasons including a 7-0 run against out-of-state opponents – a list that includes Concord De La Salle (CA) and Camden County (GA).
Don Bosco Prep, the defending national champions according to every major poll last season, fell out of ESPN’s Top 25 entering the week after having its national-best 46-game winning streak snapped by Baltimore Gilman last week.
But four miscues on special teams including a muffed punt return late in the game that set up Don Bosco Prep (1-1) for its game-winning score dealt the Raiders their first loss of the season.
“If you make mistakes like that on special teams, bad things are going to happen,” St. Thomas coach Rocco Casullo said. “The special teams have been great the past two weeks. We really didn’t expect something like this to happen.”
Aquinas dueled Don Bosco Prep (NJ), the defending national champions by several polls last season, to a 10-10 tie into the fourth quarter. The Ironmen mustered only 114 total yards on offense. St. Thomas’ defense had two interceptions from Chris Washington and James Crawford.
Aquinas’ offense also gained plenty of yards, finishing with 293.
Raiders’ quarterback John O’Korn threw for 165 yards, but completed only 8 of 24 passes and threw one late interception that ended a potential go-ahead drive with 8:53 remaining.
Don Bosco Prep broke the stalemate when Aquinas receiver Mark Barr ran up to field a punt near his own 10-yard line and could not control it. The Ironmen recovered at Aquinas’ 2 setting up Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks’ 2-yard run on the next play that gave Don Bosco the lead for good with 6:31 left in the fourth quarter.
St. Thomas never led in the game, and lost its chance to make a comeback after punter William Arpin couldn’t control the long snap and Don Bosco recovered at the St. Thomas 34-yard line with 4:19 left.
Cameron Beals connected on a 30-yard field goal on the ensuing drive to put the game out of reach.
“The defense came together tonight and played very well,” Casullo said. “They gave us opportunities we didn’t take advantage of.”
Don Bosco Prep blocked two punts earlier in the game, the first of which put it in front 10-0 in the first quarter.
Kyle Phipps blocked a punt deep in Aquinas territory and Isaiah Hill recovered it and returned it two yards for a touchdown.
The Ironmen scored their first points on a 27-yard field goal by Beals after capitalizing on a fumble by O’Korn.
Aquinas rallied from the deficit behind some tough running by Fred Coppet and pinpoint passing by O’Korn. Coppet delivered a 27-yard run that was followed by a perfect connection down the sidelines for 36 yards from O’Korn to wide receiver Corey Holmes. The plays led to a 28-yard field goal by Alex Knight. Coppet finished with 112 yards on 27 carries.
A similar 37-yard completion from O’Korn to Franklyn Richardson set up a Raiders’ touchdown late in the first half. O’Korn, who is often called Tebow by teammates, delivered a well-timed jump pass to tight end Jonathan Boozer for a 2-yard touchdown that helped tie the game with five minutes left in the second quarter.
“This was a gut check for a lot of us,” Casullo said. “We go back to work on Monday and get ready for district play.”
• Northeast 13, Miramar 5: Northeast only managed 52 yards of offense, but behind a defense that simply played magnificent and picked up a pair of interception returns for touchdown, the Hurricanes came away with a 13-5 home win over highly favored Miramar Friday night.
The win was the biggest win for the ‘Canes (2-1) since their 21-12 win over the Patriots two years ago in the state playoffs.
“They really went after it and did what we wanted to do. The defense held it together for us all night, put points on the board. You can’t ask for anything more than that,” Northeast head coach Donnell Bennett said.
But this one was all defense as the ‘Canes failed to do anything offensively. The ‘Canes jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the second quarter on a perfectly read interception by Zeffery Clark who returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.
After giving up a field goal which cut the lead to three, Northeast appeared to be ready to give the lead up before the end of the half, when Stacey Coley came up with the play of the season. He picked off a tipped pass at the five yard line, ran up the Northeast sideline, picked up a couple of blocks and cut it across the field at about the 50-yard line.
Coley took it down the Miramar (1-2) sideline where he picked up another block and cut back at the end to beat the final Miramar player for a 95-yard interception return for touchdown giving the ‘Canes a 13-3 lead with 11.9 seconds to play in the first half.
“Phenomenal. That kid is just growing up on a continuing basis and I am proud of what he’s doing for this team. We just got to keep going,”
Bennett said of Coley’s play.
That was all Northeast needed as the Patriots offense could never get on track and kept on running into the ‘Canes “Black Hole” defense.
Even a 1 hour and 20 minute lightning delay with 2:18 to play on the clock couldn’t stop Northeast. Miramar had one final chance, but after moving the ball 51 yards, with no timeouts and only 15 seconds to play from the Northeast 16-yard line, Alex Lee was swallowed for a seven-yard loss on a screen pass and the clock ran out.
“They came to play. That’s all I teach, all out reckless abandon. Let’s go hunt. I talk about the National Geographic all the time where you see the lions and tigers going to hunt. They don’t let the guys walk away wounded.
They take their prey out right away and that’s the type of mentality we have as a defense,” Northeast defensive coordinator Fred Flowers said.