A St. Thomas Aquinas fan held up a sign Friday night at the Citrus Bowl that read: “We want Bama.”
While farfetched, the Raiders certainly played like a team worthy of being considered the nation’s best football team at the high school level over the final three months of the season.
Aquinas didn’t force a running clock Friday night but wasn’t any less dominant during a 31-0 rout of Kissimmee Osceola in the Class 7A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl.
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The Raiders (14-1), ranked 15th nationally by MaxPreps, won their eighth state championship and fifth since 2007.
Aquinas is now alone in second place in the state record books for most state championships behind only Jacksonville Bolles (11).
“It’s a great feeling to be a part of this,” St. Thomas coach Rocco Casullo said. “Outside of my son and daughter being born, and it’s her birthday [Friday], this is the best feeling in the world.”
Aquinas opened the season ranked in the top five nationally but fell out of the national title picture following a 24-7 road loss to Don Bosco Prep (New Jersey) in the second game of the season.
But following a comeback win against Miramar, the Raiders won their next 12 games by at least 27 points and outscored their opponents over that span 583-34.
“It’s the chemistry on defense that made us play so well,” Aquinas senior defensive end Brandon Boyce said. “I’m loving this right now.”
Aquinas’ starting defense didn’t allow a touchdown since the second quarter of its 34-7 victory on Oct.17 against Weston Cypress Bay.
The shutout Friday night against Osceola was Aquinas’ seventh of the season, and with it the Raiders joined Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna (2003) and Plantation American Heritage (earlier Friday) as the only Broward schools to win a state championship game with a shutout.
“We were complacent and arrogant early in the season, and we went up to Don Bosco and they gave it to us,” Aquinas senior defensive back James Oliphant said. “We realized we can’t go into any game [thinking] we were just going to show up, win and leave. As a whole, we were just focused and didn’t take anyone for granted since that Miramar win.”
The Raiders secured title No.8 largely behind a defense that nearly set the state championship game record for total yards allowed.
Aquinas had allowed 8 total yards and hadn’t allowed Osceola to cross the 50-yard line until the Kowboys executed a fake-punt pass for 31 yards with five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Osceola (13-2) finished with 38 total yards and only 7 yards rushing. The record was 20 total yards allowed by Apalachicola in 1968.
“Are you kidding me, I’m going to have to fire my special teams coach,” joked Casullo. “I’m so proud of these guys on offense, defense and special teams, and the job they’ve done. We had to put it all together after that Bosco loss.”
Aquinas’ defense held Osceola to minus-6 yards on its first six drives, and after a pair of sacks before halftime the Kowboys had minus-19 yards at the break. Boyce finished with nine tackles (41/2 for loss), a half-sack and a fumble recovery. Junior Nick Bosa had seven tackles (two for loss), a half-sack, a forced fumble and a recovery.
“All season [Osceola] relied on pushing the D-line back and getting a push on offense,” Bosa said.
“It showed that wasn’t going to happen against us. Once we stopped their run they were going to get nothing.”
St. Thomas senior Jordan Scarlett finished with 121 yards on 15 carries.
Senior quarterback Jake Rizzo threw a pair of interceptions but recovered in the second half by throwing a pair of touchdown passes to Connor Fee and Devante Peete.
ST. THOMAS 31,
STA—FG, Cicero 34
STA—Scarlett 39 run (Cicero kick)
STA—Rizzo 10 run (Cicero kick)
STA—Peete 7 pass from Rizzo (Cicero kick)
STA—Fee 18 pass from Rizzo (Cicero kick)
Rushing (att-yds) — KO: Wilson 5-(-31), Dockery 3-(-1), BRrown 3-2, Black 7-9, Wilson 13-12, Edwards 3-16. STA: Kincaide 1-5, Cole 3-9, Rizzo 8-20, Lane 2-21, Harris 2-23, Sands 8-24, Scarlett 15-121.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds) — KO: Wilson 1-6-1, 31. STA: Rizzo 8-13-2, 86.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) — KO: Black 1-31. STA: Sands 1-4, Harris 2-9, Peete 2-20, Bruce 1-26, Fee 2-27.