The St. Thomas Aquinas team was defined and dictated for much of the 2018 season by how the defense performed.
They had registered six shutouts and held 11 opponents to six of fewer points.
As the loss the 33-20 loss to Lakeland was building, it became apparent the Aquinas defense on this Friday night wouldn’t stand up to its season-long domination.
Yielding 277 rushing yards wasn’t the norm, neither was the 370 total gained by the Dreadnaughts offense.
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“Lakeland played hard and the ball didn’t bounce our way,” said St. Thomas coach Roger Harriott. “It was one of those games. We didn’t play well tonight.
“They matched up well and did a great job against our defense. They were able to advance moving forward.”
Lakeland junior running back Demarkcus Bowman cut through the Raiders defensive front seven for 211 yards on 22 carries that included an 80-yard touchdown run for the game’s first touchdown.
“At the end of the day we weren’t able to stop the run,” said defensive coach and former Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor. “We played pretty well for the most part, but there got more first downs than we were able to prevent. Lakeland earned it.”
St. Thomas had allowed only 38 points through it first four playoff games, 20 coming in garbage time in a regional quarterfinal game against South Miami.
Aquinas came into the game allowing only 105 points this season, with 43 coming in a loss to Miami Central. Only 62 points had been conceded in the 13 victories entering the Class 7A title game at Camping World Stadium on Friday.
The defense did force four Lakeland fumbles, but was able to recover only two. Only one would produce a touchdown that came in the third quarter.
“Defensively we didn’t come out as aggressively as we usually do,” said St. Thomas senior safety Jordan Battle. “Some just don’t go our way. They beat us in the trenches. We didn’t win that side of the ball.”
The defense, that had registered 59 sacks entering the game, managed four sacks on this night.
In the six playoff losses to Lakeland since 1996, Aquinas has allowed 31 plus points in each of those games. Five came in games that would decide a state champion like this Friday.