St. Thomas Aquinas has been talking about Bradenton Manatee all season.
Now the Raiders get their shot at the nationally ranked Hurricanes next week.
Aquinas survived a few second-quarter shots to the gut Friday night but ended up holding off visiting Boyd Anderson 38-24 in a Class 7A state quarterfinal game.
The Raiders (11-2) will host Manatee (13-0) next Friday, with the winner moving on to the state final in Orlando. Manatee is ranked No. 1 in some national polls.
Aquinas and Manatee are old pals, facing each other four times in recent years. Aquinas has won three of the four meetings.
“We did some bad things but did more good,” Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo said. “We were able to do a lot of things on offense, and I give [quarterback] John O’Korn and the offensive line a lot of credit.
“We’re in the Final Four, and that’s where you want to be. Aquinas and Manatee has become a nice rivalry over the years. We’re looking forward to a fun night. It’s going to be great for high school football.”
After their defenses combined to give up a grand total of 24 points in the opening round of the playoffs, it was thought the defensive side of the ball would dominate.
Yet the teams combined for 41 points in the opening half, including 34 points in the second quarter alone.
The Raiders took a 7-0 lead in the first when O’Korn stormed in from the 1 with 15 seconds left.
Boyd Anderson, coached by Aquinas graduate Wayne Blair, scored the following 10 points, as it got strong play from receiver Eddie Jackson and quarterback Greg Hankerson.
On BA’s first scoring drive, Hankerson found Jackson in the left corner of the end zone. On the next drive, which started at the 2, Jackson made two big catches for a total of 80 yards. The Cobras settled for a field goal and a 10-7 lead.
Aquinas bounced back and got a 16-yard scoring run from Frederick Coppet, only to watch Zachary Hill take the ensuing kickoff and tip-toe down the left sideline, scampering 90 yards. The Raiders closed out the opening half by scoring on a 14-yard pass from O’Korn to Mark Barr.
With 12.2 seconds left before the half, Aquinas’ Al Harris picked off Hankerson at the 28. O’Korn then moved the Raiders into field-goal range, and Alex Knight made it 24-17 with a 26-yard kick as time expired.
O’Korn ended up tossing two more touchdown passes in the second half, as the senior who has committed to Houston passed for 180 yards. Hankerson passed for 203 yards, and he and Jackson hooked up in the fourth to pull BA within a touchdown.
“We were well prepared for this game,” O’Korn said. “We knew we could put some points on the board. We watched the Dwyer game tape about five times, and they left some points on the field. For some schools 11-2 is a great season, but we have higher standards. We started 3-2 and declared it a new season for Aquinas football. This could be a special season for us.”
Friday’s loss was a major disappointment to Blair after he has turned the BA program around in just two seasons. Both sides had a beef about the officials from the Gold Coast Association, although Blair was the most vocal about it.
The Cobras, who ended the season 9-3, just ran out of gas.
“We didn’t execute, and that’s it. Point blank,” Blair said. “It was one of those days. We had a bad day. I’m happy we didn’t let down. We showed a lot of heart and left a lot out on the field. We shouldn’t have put ourselves in position where the refs could determine the game.”
Coppet rushed for 89 yards on 18 carries but left the game in the third quarter with what looked to be a hamstring injury.