St. Thomas Aquinas already had lost its All-American defensive end Nick Bosa to a season-ending injury.
The Raiders also revealed this week they would be without their starting quarterback Jake Allen for the remainder of the season.
What Aquinas did not lose this week was the ability to beat good football teams.
If there were any doubts St. Thomas Aquinas could still make a run for the state championship in Class 7A this season, the Raiders might have answered them Friday night with a 19-14 victory over Class 8A power Flanagan at Brian Piccolo Stadium.
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Aquinas (8-1), ranked No. 20 nationally by USA Today, will host Royal Palm Beach next Friday in a Region 4-7A quarterfinal at 7 p.m. as it begins its pursuit of the school’s ninth state championship.
“Here at St. Thomas, our philosophy is always ‘next man up,’ ” Aquinas senior defensive end Colin Nace said. “We’re definitely battle-tested, but our coaches keep pushing us, and if one goes down someone else has to step up.”
The week began with the news that Bosa, an Under Armour All-American and Ohio State commitment, would miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
Allen, a junior in his first year as Aquinas’ starter, sustained a stress fracture in his lower back during the Raiders’ lone defeat against Deerfield Beach on Oct. 9 and had missed the past two games.
The Raiders lost another key component of their defense Friday night when senior defensive end Arjay Jean sustained what could be a season-ending elbow injury in the second quarter on a play in which sophomore Nik Bonitto sacked Flanagan quarterback Kato Nelson.
Aquinas coach Roger Harriott said Jean dislocated his elbow, but it’s questionable whether he might return at any point in the postseason.
“One advantage we have is quality depth,” Harriott said. “We have players that we have full faith in and it translates in their character.”
Aquinas’ seemingly shorthanded defense did not show weakness despite the setback.
The Raiders did not allow an offensive touchdown until Nelson’s 1-yard touchdown sneak with 17 seconds remaining. Aquinas recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock moments later.
Flanagan’s Jahcour Pearson returned the opening kickoff of the second half 89 yards for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 7-3 lead. But the momentum was sapped following a fake punt attempt that failed inside their own 10 yard line and led to a James McCourt 21-yard field goal.
Aquinas held Flanagan (7-2) to 252 total yards as Justin Wright recovered a fumble, Bonitto and Darrell Shelton each had a sack and Albert Tucker led with six tackles.
Without Allen, Aquinas has tried to compensate with sophomore Beau Fillichio conducting the Raiders offense. Fillichio is 3-0 since taking over as starter and although not putting up too flashy numbers, went 10 for 17 for 81 yards and managed the game enough for Aquinas to triumph.
The Raiders’ running game totaled 126 yards as Jaxson Kincaide and receiver Sam Bruce (on a reverse) scored touchdowns.
“Our coaches do an exceptional job of instructing our kids and helping them keep their composure,” Harriott said. “Our injuries were tough to overcome, but we have a divine spirit at St. Thomas and we believe God will give us the inspiration to persevere.”
Despite its buses arriving roughly 35 minutes before kickoff, Flanagan appeared ready to “make a statement” against the Raiders.
Players hollered across the field, including linebacker Devin Bush Jr., who laid down on the Aquinas logo pregame and waved his arms. During the game, a number of unsportsmanlike penalties were called early as emotions ran high.
“Their energy was real and ours was fake,” Flanagan coach Devin Bush Sr. said. “I don’t know what [Flanagan] team that was out there. We didn’t come to play and hats off to [Aquinas]. They played great.”