Missing a few key players on defense, including University of Miami commitment Anthony Moten, didn’t stop St. Thomas Aquinas on its quest to repeat as Class 7A state champion.
The host Raiders forced four turnovers to beat Plantation 20-6 in a regional semifinal Friday night at Piccolo Stadium.
“It’s a backyard brawl,” Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo said. “Survive and advance.”
The Raiders advanced to the regional final, which will take place at Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer next week. En route to last season’s state championship, Aquinas beat the Colonels 38-7 in the same postseason round.
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St. Thomas (10-2) bested Plantation 16-6 on Nov. 1 to decide the District 15-7A title. The host Colonels collected one more first down in that game, but senior Wade Freebeck ran and threw for a touchdown.
On Friday, Plantation outgained Aquinas 251-208 and collected seven more first downs. Yet Aquinas led 13-0 after one quarter, taking advantage of great field position on all three drives. Each possession began inside the Colonels’ 40-yard line.
Facing a third-and-4 from the 31, Freebeck found junior wideout Jawuan Harris for 21 yards. Three plays later, Freebeck connected with senior wide receiver Corey Holmes for a 9-yard touchdown.
Plantation (8-3) turned the ball over on its next two drives, setting up two Raiders’ field goals.
On third-and-7, senior Chris Lammons overthrew his target, and junior Tyson Cisrow intercepted the pass. St. Thomas’ drive stalled just outside the 10. Senior Charles Courtney made a 29-yard field goal.
Lammons and his center fumbled on an exchange on the next drive, and the Raiders recovered. Instead of going for it on a fourth-and-2, Courtney nailed a 42-yarder when the Colonels defense clamped down.
“They played great down a few guys,” Freebeck said of the defense. “They had a great plan and executed.”
Down 13-0 in the first half, Plantation twice drove down the field but couldn’t manage any points. On an eight-play drive following Courtney’s second kick, Lammons threw incomplete on fourth-and-3 from the 23. The pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage.
The Colonels got another chance before halftime when Lammons eluded tacklers and found senior Josh Joseph in the endzone for a touchdown. But there was a holding penalty on the play. Lammons finished with 101 yards on the ground and 61 through the air.
Freebeck, who went 8 of 18 with 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception, extended the lead to 20-0 with 6:53 remaining in the fourth on a 1-yard bootleg on fourth-and-goal.
Plantation finally got on the scoreboard with 2:41 remaining on junior Antwuan Haynes’ 6-yard TD run.