It's finally official.St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
and De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
, which finished No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in the Xcellent 25 Rankings
presented by the Army National Guard, will lock horns on the field in 2011.
The two storied programs agreed to play a game on Sept. 23 at St. Thomas in Fort Lauderdale. The contest will be televised nationally by ESPN.
The match up has been rumored for months
, but was finalized only recently and announced today.
Both teams graduate several key players, but will likely appear in MaxPreps' preseason Xcellent 25.
De La Salle returns highly-touted quarterback Bart Houston, while St. Thomas Aquinas returns talented defensive lineman Jelani Hamilton.
The Raiders may not be done booking out of state competition, as they are also rumored to be taking on Alabama power Prattville (Ala.)
De La Salle, which has won six mythical national champions and owns the nation's longest win streak of 151 games (1992-2004), has played all over the country but never in Florida. Traveling isn't something the veteran coaching staff seeks any more.
But the challenge of playing St. Thomas was too hard to pass up. Plus most if not all the traveling expenses were picked up by the promoters, Paragon Marketing Group.
"It's always an exciting experience and challenge for the kids to play out of state on national television," longtime defensive coordinator Terry Eidson said. "This will definitely make us a better football team. We knew they have a great running back and great defensive line returning and they had great kids graduate like we did. But Florida always has fantastic athletes which will help us prepare for our ultimate goal to get back to the state championships."
De La Salle graduated approximately 14 starters from last year's 14-0 team, but besides Houston return a number of standouts including linebackers Michael Barton and Michael Hutchings and running back Joe Te'o. Its JV team also went undefeated last year.
The Spartans have traditionally traveled well, but not so well to start the season, losing convincingly to Bellevue, Wash. to snap their win streak in 2004 and in 2009 at Don Bosco Prep (N.J.).
Eidson said De La Salle won't make that schedule mistake again. The third week in Sept. is just about when the Spartans traditionally find their footing. Then again, with a 370-24-3 record since 1979 under head coach Bob Ladouceur, they've never really slipped.
"It's hard to find your team when you're playing a nationally-ranked opponent," Eidson said.
St. Thomas has taken on all comers, especially of late, one of its most talked about games was in 2009 when it hosted South Carolina power Byrnes in a game that pitted the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country at the time.
St. Thomas, also at Lockhart, won that game 42-34
Both De La Salle and St. Thomas traditionally have explosive offenses, so the Sept. 23 game should have similar fireworks.
"It's going to be a great opportunity and a great challenge for us," St. Thomas Athletic Director George Smith told the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. "The interest should be monumental."
The best part of the match-up was going to be Ladouceur versus Smith, who just announced his retirement on Valentine's Day following an equally storied career. He had compiled a 361-66 record with six state titles and has been inducted into numerous Hall of Fames.
Rocco Casullo, the team's defensive coordinator, has taken over as head coach.
No matter who is coaching, all eyes will be on South Florida the third week of September.
"Playing a great program like St. Thomas Aquinas is a positive opportunity," Ladouceur said. "Win or lose, they'll make us a better team."Senior writer and columnist Mitch Stephens contributed to this report.