FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -
Rocco Casullo received his first head football coaching job five months ago, replacing a high school legend in George Smith.
On Friday night, Casullo and his St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Raiders beat another legend and arguably prep football's most storied program with a thorough and decisive 30-6 home victory over De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
before 5,000 fans at Brian Piccolo Stadium and a national television audience.
Aquinas won all phases, especially the kicking game led by Nolan Bieck
, who booted field goals of 40, 20 and 23 yards and also drilled seven consecutive kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
Add in a superb all-around game from senior quarterback Max Lescano
, two touchdown runs by promising junior tailback Fred Coppet
and a strong all-around performance by a defense that allowed just 268 yards and forced four turnovers, and Casullo was doing internal cartwheels following this monumental battle of national powers.
Aquinas entered No. 5 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national rankings and De La Salle was No. 10.
Casullo couldn't do much physically after this one that ended around midnight due to an hour's lightning delay and endless TV timeouts.
"I'm going to sleep well tonight," he said. "I don't think it's sunk in what we just did. We just beat De La Salle and everyone - I mean everyone - contributed. Maybe it will sink in when I finally go to bed."
De La Salle and coach Bob Ladouceur couldn't get to bed - or off the field - soon enough.
It was something of a nightmare for the Spartans (2-1), who moved the ball fine between the 20s but continually shot themselves in the foot with turnovers, untimely penalties and one poor punt. It all led to the end of a 27-game win streak and a sour conclusion to a much-anticipated 3,100-mile journey.
"Four turnovers. How do you expect to win a game like that?" said Ladoucuer, California's most successful coach with a record of 373-25-1. "It's embarrassing to come out all this way to play like that."
Certainly, Aquinas had much to do with it. The Raiders took advantage of every miscue, including the very first one.
After a pair of first downs on the game's opening drive, Wisconsin-bound quarterback Bart Houston
was hit hard before making a pitch, fumbled and Miami-bound Jelani Hamilton
recovered for Aquinas at the De La Salle 48.
Houston struggled all night, connecting on just 6 of 16 passes for 80 yards while accounting for three of the four tunrovers.
Aquinas jumped on the opportunity as Lescano - superb all night - passed 25 yards to Franklyn Richardson
on the team's first play, setting up a 12-yard touchdown burst up the middle by Coppet.
With 7:12 left in the first quarter, St. Thomas was well on its way. It would never trail.
"We wanted to come in and hit it hard from the first play," Lescano said. "It helped with our nerves. It got us going."
Following Bieck's first field goal, Aquinas made its only miscue of the night and De La Salle immediately capitalized.
Aquinas linebacker Leonard Skubal
had just intercepted Houston before the half, but receiver Mark Barr was hit hard and De La Salle's Eddie Prospero
recovered at his own 41.
Houston then lofted an overhand lateral to Andrew Buckley
, who fired a 59-yard touchdown strike to a wide open Anthony Williams
(five catches, 123 yards) with 47 seconds left in the half. The extra point missed, but De La Salle trailed only 10-6 at intermission.
"That was pretty disappointing," Lescano said. "We had controlled most of the half, but that one mistake made it almost an even game. But the coaches made great adjustments at halftime. We didn't panic."
De La Salle actually seemed to be recharged by the late score and after forcing Aquinas to punt following three plays, the Spartans started a quick 30-yard march down the field.
But once again, the Spartans fumbled and Aquinas' golden linebacker Cole Champion
- what a name eh? - recovered. Seven plays later - keyed by a remarkable third-down 27-yard catch and determined run by tight end Nicolas Shepherd
- Coppet plowed in from the 1.
It was one of eight third-down conversions converted by the unflappable Lescano, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound first-year starting senior.
"Max was huge tonight," Casullo said. "His vision. His running. His passing. He grew up a lot tonight."
Lescano scored just 3:30 later on a nifty 7-yard keeper following a short (7 yards) punt that gave Aquinas another short field. The Raiders needed to go just 35 yards for the score.
That made it 24-6 with 2:12 left in the third quarter and this one was essentially over despite a nice 21-carry, 91-yard performance by De La Salle sophomore Tiapepe Vitale
. De La Salle's defense, spearheaded by Cal-bound linebacker Michael Barton
, also played spirited and allowed just over four yards per carry.
But it wasn't nearly enough. De La Salle's first trip to Florida may very well be its last. It didn't help that the Spartans lost leading rusher Dasmond Tautalatasi
with a shin injury in the second quarter.
Ladouceur offered no excuses.
“We had to play pretty much a flawless game to beat these
guys,” Ladouceur said. “They’re a physical team. They take a lot out of you.
They’re good. … But we could have played better. We should have played better.”
Casullo, the son of Oakland Raiders special teams coach Bob Casullo, thought besides the turnovers De La Salle played very well.
"Those guys play so hard, they really hit and they're so well-coached," he said. "But I can't say enough about my coaches and the jobs they did. It was just a great win not only for our program, but our athletic department, our school, our administration. I mean, we just beat De La Salle. Wow."
St. Thomas Aquinas 30, De La Salle 6
De La Salle 0 6 0 0 - 6
Aquinas 7 3 14 6 - 30
STA - Fred Coppet 12 run (Nolan Bieck kick), 7:12
STA - FG, Bieck 23, 3:41
DLS - Anthony Williams 58 pass from Andrew Buckley (kick failed), 0:47
STA - Coppet 1 run (Bieck kick), 5:44
STA - Max Lescano 7 run (Bieck kick), 2:12
STA - FG Bieck 40, 6:45
STA - FG Bieck 20, 0:12
DLS - Tiapepe Vitale 21-91, Esmond Tautalasi 6-31, David Riopelle 2-24,
Andrew Buckley 1-(-1), Bart Houston 5-(-15). Totals 35-130. STA -
Lescano 8-58, Coppet 15-57, Joseph Rizzo 6-42, Dami Ayoola 6-22, Marquis
Magwood 4-12, Dion Collier 1-2, Kamal hardy 1-0. Totals 41-193.
DLS - Houston 6-16-1-80, Buckley 1-1-0-59. STA - Lescano 9-15-0-152.
DLS - Anthony Williams 5-123, Vital 1-9, Joshua Jenkins 1-6. STA -
Franklyn Richardson 2-53, Mark Barr 2-53, Gavin Sinclair 2-15, Nicolas
Shepherd 1-27, Jonathan Boozer 1-6, Ayoola 1-(-2).
First downs: DLS 14, STA 15
Total yards: DLS 52-268, STA 56-345.
Punts: DLS 3-29.0, STA 2-53.0
Fumbles/lost: DLS 5/3, STA 4/1
Penalties: DLS 8-63, STA 6-30
Time of possession: DLS 21:23, STA 26:37