TALLAHASSEE – No matter how you looked at Saturday night’s 7A state championship games, those who knew the two teams expected a war.
With St. Thomas beating Orlando Edgewater, 31-21, the Raiders finished the season with an 8-1 mark, losing only to 4A state champion Cardinal Gibbons.
The win gave the Raiders and head coach Roger Harriott a record-breaking 12th state title, passing Jacksonville Bolles who had 11.
After last year’s four-point win by St. Thomas Aquinas, everyone felt that this year’s meeting would be much of the same – and they were right.
While many mistakes were made, this game, which capped off four days of football that featured five south Florida state champions – 12 in two years.
The Raiders struck first with 6:21 left in the opening quarter when Anthony Hankerson ran it in from the 4 and a 7-0 lead.
The Eagles tied the game at seven with 6:52 left in the first half on a 9-yard run by sophomore Cedric Baxter.
St. Thomas Aquinas regained the lead at 14-7 when junior running back Anthony Hankerson dazzled the crowd with a 12-yard run for a score.
The Raiders extended the lead to 21-7 with 1:32 left in the first half on a 46-yard interception return by Ja’Den McBurrows, who stepped in front of a Canaan Mobley pass.
The Eagles would not go away – as they moved in to cut the lead to 21-14 on a 3-yard run by Baxter as the half came to an end.
After trading possessions in the third quarter, the Raiders made it 24-14 with 3:11 left on a field goal by Max Larsen from 32-yards out.
The Eagles came right back at the 1:31 mark of the third quarter on a 4-yard run by Jeremiah Connelly and it was 24-21 St. Thomas Aquinas.
Hankerson gave the Raiders a 31-21 lead with 9:15 left in the fourth quarter on a 9-yard run.
DEFENSE MAKES AN IMPACT
Every game in the state finals has featured some impressive defensive performers – and this game is no different.
St. Thomas featured Kylan Stephens, King Mack, Dallas Turner, Derrieon Craig, Jaydon Hood, Isaiah Taylor and Tyson Russell.
OFFENSIVE PROSPECT STANDOUT
Having solid defensive players is always vital to the success of any team.
The Raiders had receivers Bralon Brown, Antonio Spencer, Mason Taylor, Maurice Newton and Camden Brown.