When the football season started at St. Thomas Aquinas back in August, there were few across the country who didn’t believe the Raiders had enough talent to win a third national championship.
Thanks to one rough road trip to West Point, New York, and a 24-7 loss to Don Bosco Prep (New Jersey) back on Sept.13, the Raiders (14-1) won’t finish this season No.1 in the country. But, man, have they played like the No.1 team in the country, especially on defense.
Friday night’s 31-0 shutout of Kissimmee Osceola in the Class 7A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl was another defensive clinic by the Raiders, who put up seven shutouts and limited opponents to 77 points this season. Both are school records.
Until Osceola ran a fake punt that went for 31 yards late in the fourth quarter, Aquinas was on its way to allowing the fewest yards in state championship history (the previous record was 20 yards, set in 1968). Osceola, which came in averaging 37.4 points and 353.5 yards on the ground, finished with 38 yards of offense on 40 plays. It had 7 yards rushing on 34 attempts.
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Even George Smith, who won six of Aquinas’ state titles before handing the keys to his Ferrari over to former defensive coordinator Rocco Casullo four years ago, couldn’t deny this Raiders defense was the best ever. Well, sort of.
First, he said it was. Then the competitor in Smith forced him to clarify.
“Well, I would have to say it’s as good as any defense we’ve ever had here,” he said, as if not to upset one of his children. “I would have to say it that way.”
It’s hard to compare the greatest teams of all time at Aquinas. When you’ve sent 72 players to Power 5 conference schools and 125 to Football Bowl Subdivision programs since 2000, how do you determine which team is more talented? How do you determine which was really the best when so many have gone 15-0 or 14-1?
Nick Bosa, a five-star Class of 2016 recruit, could end up being better than his older brother Joey, who was a finalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi awards this year at Ohio State.
Brandon Boyce, a 6-foot, 245-pound senior headed to Duke, is short for defensive tackle standards. But ask the Kowboys how his shoulder pads taste. Of his team-leading nine tackles, 41/2 were for loss. Wyatt Ray, headed to Boston College, was an unblockable force all season at defensive end.
“I didn’t know how the chemistry was going to be, but it ended up being the best chemistry I’ve ever had on a team,” said Bosa, referring to how the Raiders picked up four huge transfers before the season from University School, including Boyce. “I can go up to every single person and give them a hug. And it wouldn’t be weird.”
And that’s what the Raiders were doing Friday night. When the bludgeoning of the Kowboys was over, Bosa and his defensive teammates posed for a photo and then smothered each other in one giant group hug. Disappointment over not winning a national title? There wasn’t any.
Casullo said he didn’t think the Raiders, who climbed to as high as No.3 in the national polls before the Bosco loss, would have had a real shot anyway.
“Who is going to vote us to be No.1 with a win over a 6-5 Bosco team?” Casullo said. “There’s teams across this country playing more ranked teams — especially in Texas. What Bishop Gorman did this year was phenomenal with the out-of-state schedule. What really matters for us is we win a state championship. And we did that.”