FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It was nothing new for St. Thomas Aquinas to play for a state championship. It was nothing new for them to win a state championship.
The only thing different compared to last year’s game or the two previous games played in 2019 and 2020 was the opponent on the side of the ball.
However, this time, it was not just a cakewalk through the park like it was last year when going up against Tampa Bay Tech in the Class 7A state championship. This time it was the Homestead Broncos on the opposite side of the ball and they were ready to challenge the Raiders.
The Philip Simpson-led Homestead team came ready with a game plan to make St. Thomas Aquinas earn the Class 3M State Championship instead, one that would see the Raiders defeat the Broncos 38-21.
THE FIRST HALF WAS A DOGFIGHT
The first two minutes of the game were very interesting with St. Thomas Aquinas (14-0) getting the ball first and seeing Xavier Terrell fumbling it with just 59 seconds taken off the clock. However, on the very next play with Homestead (11-3) having recovered the fumble by Adrian Germain, Homestead quarterback Joshua Townsend threw it up in the air to take a shot against the Raiders’ defense, but freshman Justice Patrick was there waiting and ready for the interception.
From there St. Thomas Aquinas was looking to make a statement having the ball back and they proceeded to do that with a 79-yard, six-play drive that resulted in the Raiders scoring on a Jordan Lyle up the middle run to take a 7-0 lead with 7:55 to go.
That drive would be guided by a huge 32-yard pass play by Hezekiah Harris to Chance Robinson down the sideline that would lead to that touchdown.
The remainder of the first quarter would see the Broncos and Raiders exchange punts, showing just how much defense each team came to the field within the game.
With getting the ball to start the second quarter after the Raiders’ punt, Homestead was bound and determined to get something going where Townsend started to show off the capabilities, he has had all season finding star receiver Richard Dandridge down the right side of the field for 48-yards to set the Broncos up to score six plays later.
On that sixth play later, Townsend would once again fine Dandridge for a seven-yard touchdown pass that would not the game up at 7-7 with 8:10 left before half time.
The Raiders were determined on the next drive to respond back to the Broncos and were heading towards doing just that when running back Gemari Sands rushed for 50 yards down the sideline to set things up inside the red zone.
However, three plays later Sands would fumble the ball when the Homestead defense stripped the ball by Eduardo Nunez who came aggressively on Sands in stopping the third down play. That fumble would end up being recovered by Nunez himself.
With the turnover in hand, Homestead could not get anything going and would punt the ball back to the Raiders.
For the rest of the half, it would just be back and forth between the Broncos and Raiders trying to make things happen with the game going into halftime tied at 7-7.
THE SECOND HALF BECOMES ELECTRIC
With Homestead getting the ball coming out of the second half the Broncos were looking to take advantage of the opportunity to potentially get a go-ahead score on the Raiders. However, the Raiders had other thoughts and plans as they came out strong on defense and forced the Broncos into a three-and-out situation.
What happened next was costly for Homestead and started the hole that the Broncos would never be able to climb out of.
That hole was in the form of a 58-yard punt return by Penn State commit King Mack who found all the right holes in traffic that became a touchdown for St. Thomas Aquinas, putting the Raiders up 14-7 with 10:31 left in the third quarter.
From there Homestead and St. Thomas Aquinas would exchange a few more punts until a short 10-yard punt set up the Raiders with great field position at the Homestead 43-yard line that saw the Raiders capitalize on things really fast with a Lyle gaining 17 yards and then Harris finishing it off it by calling his own number for 17 yards to put the Raiders up 21-7 with 3:26 left in the third quarter.
Determined to not let things get away from them, Homestead quickly turned around and started to get the offense rolling again when Townsend started to find Robinson and Cortez Mills on a series of long pass plays that would be capped off by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Townsend to Robinson to cut St. Thomas Aquinas lead to 21-13 as the third quarter came to a close.
St. Thomas Aquinas would respond with a 21-yard field goal from Nicholas Romero to start the fourth quarter as the Broncos’ defense clamped down to not let the damage get too much bigger, allowing some hope that the Broncos would have a chance to make things a game.
Instead, of making things a game, Townsend was quickly intercepted by Conrad Hussey for the Raiders, and quickly St. Thomas Aquinas took the turnover and made the deficit even bigger for the Broncos when they completed a six-play, 53-yard drive that would be capped off by Harris pass to James Madison for 24 yards to put the score at 31-13 with 7:16 left in the game.
Homestead, knowing time was not on their side quickly took the next drive down the field in just six plays themselves, aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from St. Thomas Aquinas, that would be capped off with Townsend’s pass to Javon Robinson from 10-yards out along with Robinson completing the two-point conversion to make the score a 10-point game again at 31-21 with 4:36 left to go.
The Broncos, hoping to have their defense make a stop instead of going for the onside kick, kicked it off and the Raiders took the ball after a solid return by Isaiah Hardge, which would be capped off by a Sands eight-yard touchdown run, that would be set up on the play before by a Lyle 34-yard run down the Raiders sideline, ending any chances for the Broncos coming back, making the score 38-21.
St. Thomas Aquinas extended their state record for most state championships won by a program to 14 state championships which is now three more than Bolles who they tied with in 2019 and overtook in 2020.
This was also the first time that St. Thomas Aquinas has won four straight state championships in school history and will join the list with teams like Suwannee (Live Oak), North Florida Christian (Tallahassee), Miami Central, Trinity Christian (Jacksonville), and Booker T. Washington (Miami) to win four straight state championships.
COACH HARRIOT ON THE GAME