ORLANDO -Last year at this time, many felt that if St. Thomas Aquinas stayed healthy, the Raiders had a chance to be a good team this coming season. On Friday night, this football program that waltzed through the 2008 campaign, became a great team.
The Raiders finished a perfect season at 15-0 with an impressive 56-7 win over previously unbeaten Lakeland and a second consecutive 5A state title. More importantly, the Raiders captured the national championship, which is the fourth consecutive for the state of Florida and the first ever for a Broward County team.
"I felt coming in that if we played our kind of game, we would have a chance to accomplish some great things," said coach George Smith. "The key was jumping out in front and gaining the momentum."
It didn't take the Raiders long to establish a tempo in the 5A state title game. With 11:07 left in the opening quarter, senior Ryan Becker found a wide open Gabrisson Holmes, and the Purdue commitment took it 53 yards for a score and a 7-0 lead.
The Raiders extended the lead to 14-0 when junior running back James White took it 45 yards with 5:14 left in the opening quarter and a 15-0 advantage.
St. Thomas extended the lead to 21-0 with 3:29 left in the opening quarter when Ryan Becker took it in from the 1. The play was set up by a 47-yard run by junior Gio Bernard. Seconds later, senior Conor O'Neill picked a Jarrod Haggins ball out of the air and returned it for a 28-0 first quarter advantage.
The Raiders took a 35-0 lead at the half when Becker found senior Dwayne Difton from 12 yards out.
The Dreadnaughts broke out of the gate quickly, and when Javares McRoy caught an 86-yard touchdowndown pass from Jarred Haggins, it was 35-7 with 11:37 left in the third quarter.
St. Thomas came right back as White had a 48-yard run deep inside Lakeland territory, and then with 10:06 left, senior Beau Bucci took it in from the 8 and a commanding 42-7 lead.
The Raiders continued to pour it on when Becker once again found the endzone. This time to Duron Carter from 5 yards out and a 49-7 lead with 5:18 lead.
Senior Ronnie Kennedy ended the scoring on an 8-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
Lakeland 0 0 7 0- 7
St. Thomas Aquinas 28 7 14 7-56
ST - Gabrisson Holmes 53 pass from Ryan Becker (Michael Palardy kick), 11:07 (1)
ST - James White 45 run (Michael Palardy kick), 5:14 (1), 14-0
ST - Ryan Becker 1 run (Michael Palardy kick), 3:29 (1), 21-0
ST - Conor O'Neill 20 int. return (Michael Palardy kick), 3:12 (1) 28-0
ST - Dwayne Difton 12 pass from Ryan Becker (Michael Palardy kick), 1:34 (2), 35-0
L - Javares McRoy 86 pass from Jarred Haggins (Aaron O'Brien kick), 11:37 (3), 35-7
ST - Beau Bucci 8 run (Michael Palardy kick), 10:06 (3), 42-7
ST - Duron Carter 5 pass from Ryan Becker (Michael Palardy kick), 5:18 (3), 49-7
ST - Ronnie Kennedy 8 run (Michael Palardy kick), 4:29 (4), 56-7
Steward Butler (12-8)
Jarred Haggins (3-13-1)
Javares McRoy (1-86)
Gio Bernard (8-104), James White (4-98)
Ryan Becker (8-11-0-100 yards)
Gabrison Holmes (2-67)