The motivation behind the St. Thomas Aquinas football team’s mission to earn another state title this season was evident since practices in the summer.
Last season’s heartbreaking elimination at the hands of Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer in the regional final stung so much that coach Rocco Casullo would remind his championship-or-bust Raiders of it when they appeared fatigued running sprints in the August heat.
By the time the Region 4-7A final rolled around this season, St. Thomas needed no extra motivation, easily rolling over Royal Palm Beach 52-7 at home on Friday night.
St. Thomas now gets a date with Tarpon Springs East Lake, coming off a 40-7 win against Fort Myers, in a state semifinal match on Friday.
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The winner advances to the Class 7A final at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl, where the Raiders could go for their eighth state championship and fifth in the past eight seasons.
Aquinas (12-1) dominated from the beginning — more specifically, running back and UM commit Jordan Scarlett dominated.
Scarlett’s first two carries went for touchdowns. First he shed a Royal Palm defender dragging from his jersey and sprinted to the end zone for a 24-yard score, and the next time he touched the ball, he scampered 55 yards to put the Raiders up 14-0 less than five minutes into the game.
“I want to give a big thanks to my O-line and my receivers for giving me the opportunity to make those plays happen,” said Scarlett, with both arms tucked into his shoulder pads to keep himself warm after the game.
Scarlett finished with 117 yards and three touchdowns on just eight carries, but even more impressively was already in triple digits after his first four attempts in the first quarter.
“Jordan’s a special player. He’s just getting better each week,” Casullo says. “He wants the ball, and running backs like that that want the ball, those are the guys that you see on Sunday.”
The Raiders intercepted sophomore Royal Palm quarterback Toddy Centeio four times and forced six turnovers overall.
The picks came courtesy of Rashard Causey, Tyson Cisrow, Claudeny Jeudy and Frank Coppet. Throw in fumble recoveries from Nick Bosa and Velvario Faulkner, and the takeaways set up a short field for the Raiders all night.
Quarterback Jake Rizzo didn’t have to throw much in the easy victory, going 4 for 7 for 101 yards, a touchdown to Jawuan Harris and a 1-yard rushing score.
In relief of Scarlett, Deltron Sands went for 84 yards and a touchdown on five carries and Devonta’e Henry-Cole had 56 yards and a score.
St. Thomas has grown accustomed to blowouts like the one it handed to Royal Palm (11-2) Friday. The Raiders won their four regular-season district games by a combined score of 221-0 and won their previous two playoff games by a 95-6 margin.
“I felt like they were going to give us a better game, but we just came out and played like we had to play,” Scarlett said. “We showed them what real football is all about.”
ST. THOMAS 52,
ROYAL PALM BEACH 7
STA- Scarlett 24 run (Cicero kick)
STA- Scarlett 55 run (Cicero kick)
STA- Kirtley 43 FG
STA- Rizzo 1 run (Cicero kick)
STA- Sands 12 run (Cicero kick)
STA- Scarlett 1 run (Cicero kick)
STA- Harris 36 pass from Rizzo (Cicero kick)
STA- Henry-Cole 48 run (Cicero kick)
RPB- Taylor 22 pass from Centeio (Wallace kick)
Rushing (att-yds) -- RPB: Holloway 1-1, Python 1-13, Centeio 9-21, Jackson 9-28, Perry 16-94. STA: Dever 4-(-17), Rizzo 2-(-9), Jenkins 1-2, Lane 4-9, Kincaide 2-16, Cole 4-56, Sands 5-84, Scarlett 8-117.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- RPB: Centeio 6-15-4, 58. STA: Dever 1-3-0, 43, Rizzo 4-7-0, 101.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- RPB: Jackson 1-1, Lawler 1-4, Perry 1-12, Brown 2-19, Taylor 1-22. STA: Bruce 1-8, Peete 1-25, Grimes 1-43, Harris 2-70.