Seemingly ions ago - more than three months - on the floor of Cowboys Stadium in Texas, all the elements were there.
St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
coach George Smith knew it.
He just didn't want to say it.
His 2010 version of the St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders was on par with other squads he won state and mythical national championships with.
A strong, deep running game. A proven Division I quarterback - Iowa-bound quarterback Jake Rudock
). And arguably the best receiving tandem in the country - receivers Phillip Dorsett
(Miami) and Rashad Greene
The line needed some experience and the defense was small, but - judging from that opening-day 31-3 win over Skyline - was active and effective.
new team," he said before the season. "We’re young on the offensive line and we’re not real big on
defense. But we’ll be OK.”
Thirteen games later, the Raiders (14-0) are more than OK as they steamrolled previously unbeaten Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.)
31-7 in Friday's 5A state semifinal.
It was a particularly sweet victory, considering Manatee spoiled Aquinas' dream of back-to-back state and national crowns - not to mention a 37-game win streak - with a 28-20 victory in last year's semifinals.
Aquinas came in No. 4 and Manatee 18th in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national rankings.
"This feels amazing," St. Thomas running back Dami Ayoola
"I thought we played well," Smith said Friday. "Last year,
we didn't play with the same intensity."
Ayoola, a 5-foot-9, 200-pound junior, certainly played with it from the start, scoring on runs of 8 and 51 yards to give St. Thomas a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
After a field goal, Manatee (13-1) closed to 17-7 on a 7-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Cord Sandberg
just before halftime.
In the second half, it was all Raiders, especially their under-sized, but fantastic defense. They held highly-touted running back Mike Blakely
to barely two yards per carry (19 carries, 42 yards).
Sandberg threw for 200 yards but those were mostly after the game was decided. Frederick Coppet
and Jamal Wilson
(13 carries, 102 yards) added second-half rushing touchdowns for the Raiders, who got 137 yards passing from Ruddock. Plant wins big:
Even without Alabama-bound quarterback Phillip Ely
out with a back injury, Plant had little trouble with perennial national power Lakeland (13-1) as the nation's No. 1 recruit from the Class of 2011 James Wilder
rushed for 215 yards and five touchdowns.
"(Wilder) never stops amazing us," Plant coach Robert Weiner told tampabay.com.
Weiner also called the win "One of the greatest performances of any team I've ever been around."
Plant goes for its third straight 5A title next week.