Broward High Schools

St. Thomas Aquinas’ title run comes to an end

The tears rolling down the cheeks of quarterback Wade Freebeck told the story for St. Thomas Aquinas.

The Raiders came into Dwyer's backyard hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2011 season when the Panthers ended their playoff run as defending state champions. But history repeated itself Friday night.

A late 1-yard touchdown run by Dwyer quarterback Daniel Parr ended a night of back and fourth and propelled the top-ranked Panthers to a 35-28 victory and a trip to the Class 7A state semifinals. The Raiders, once ranked among the nation's top 10 teams this season, end the season 10-3.

"We played our [butts] off," said Freebeck, who finished 9 of 27 for 140 yards, three touchdowns and a costly interception before the half that led to a field goal.

"I enjoyed playing with all the guys. I really enjoyed the experience. I just wish we could have finished it."

The pass Freebeck wishes he had back most came with under five minutes to play. On fourth-and-9 at the Dwyer 29, Freebeck stepped into the pocket to avoid pressure and threw a dart toward the back of the end zone where 6-5, 200-pound junior receiver Devante Peete stood wide open.

But the pass was just beyond the reach of Peete, who leaped as high as he could to try and bring the errant pass down.

Dwyer (13-0) took over from there and marched right down the field behind Parr, who finished 21 of 35 for 339 yards, two touchdown passes and one interception.

Twice on the game-winning drive Parr converted fourth downs with pass completions. The first was a 16-yarder to tight end Nick Martinsen. The last one, an 8-yarder to receiver Ezra Saffold, moved the ball inside the Aquinas 15.

Saffold, a 5-7, 150-pound senior, hauled in 10 passes for 150 yards and set up Parr's game-winner with a short catch and leap down to the 1-yard line over a pair of Raiders defenders.

"Both teams played their hearts out," Aquinas coach Rocco Cassulo said. "They had one more play than us."

Aquinas trailed 20-14 at the half but took a 21-20 lead when Freebeck connected with Peete on a 36-yard scoring strike on the opening drive of the second half.

Dwyer responded right away when highly touted recruit Johnnie Dixon raced right through the Raiders secondary and hauled in a 67-yard touchdown pass.

Dixon, who finished with four catches for 122 yards and a 43-yard TD catch in the opening quarter, then hauled in the two-point conversion to make it 28-21.

Aquinas then drove right back downfield and tied the score at 28 when running back Deltron Sands knocked over defenders on his way to a 15-yard TD run. The Raiders later missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt to take the lead.

"It's tough when you play as hard as you did and you see the seniors crying and feeling the way they do," said sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa, who had a sack. "I'm lucky to have a couple more years left. I like who we have coming up. We just have to keep building."

Cassulo said there is still a lot Aquinas can take away from this season.

"We go up to John Curtis, end a 29-game win streak. You beat a Northwestern, beat a good Plantation team twice," Cassulo said. "To get this far — everybody wants to be in position. I thought a lot of our young guys stepped up. We have stuff to build off in February when we get into our offseason workouts."

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