Lakeland crushes Aquinas 39-10

MIAMI- It was billed as the High School National Championship Game. Defending state champion Lakeland (14-0) stepped in as the top ranked team in the USA Today Top 25 Poll. You'd have to roll the calendar back two years to find the last time they lost an FHSAA playoff contest. Talented Aquinas (13-0) was the nation's fourth ranked team in the same poll led by a heavily recruited offensive line. The Dreadnaughts crushed the Raiders 39-10 as The Dynasty lives on.

The hype lasted but briefly. Lakeland did it, by playing the game, just the way it should be done. The rule of thumb always rests on those five little words- turnovers, big plays, and special teams.

Strong safety Steve Wilkes secured the first big play of the evening when he intercepted Aquinas quarterback Wesley Carroll. Nine seconds later, the Dreadnaughts dialed long distance when Lakeland quarterback Billy Lowe deposited a 56 yard touchdown strike into the waiting arms of Matt Grier.

Aquinas answered after consuming 9:10 of the first quarter clock. The quarter ended with St. Thomas threatening to score with the ball at the Dreadnaught two-yard line. Carroll hit split end Leonard Hankerson in the back of the end zone to tie the game at 7-7.

After the ensuing kickoff, Chris Rainey took a second a three handoff, hit the hole, found a seam, and turned on the jets for a 47 yard burst. A diving tackle by defensive back Everett Lewis was the only thing that kept Rainey from going the distance. After an incomplete pass, the Dreadnaughts kept the ball on the ground, and scored on the sixth play as Jamar Taylor scored on a one yard blast.

Aquinas fumbled the kickoff and Lakeland again took advantage. They used the lightning quick legs of Rainey to carry them to the end zone. After picking up 17 yards on two carries, Rainey scored on a 12 yard run to give Lakeland a 20-7 lead.

Just before the end of the half, the Raiders moved the ball 19 yards where Brett Swanson hit a 43 yard field goal to close the gap to 20-10.

Turnovers again would play a key role early in the second half. Aquinas Everett Lewis picked off an ill advised alley-oop pass thrown by Carroll. One minute later, the Raiders suffered a poor exchange and gave the ball right back to the Dreadnaughts. Once again they capitalized on an Aquinas turnover. Once again, Taylor plunged across from one yard out. The Dreadnaughts led 27-10 and you could sense the ultimate outcome was becoming merely a formality.

Offensively, the Lakeland offense rolled up 141 yards of net rushing in the fourth quarter alone. Juniors Taylor and Rainey each ran past the century mark. Taylor had 16 carries for 153 yards and three touchdowns. Rainey, who grew up an avid Florida fan and has dreamt of playing for the Gators since he was very young, ran for 112 yards on 19 carries and a score.

"I think that we can do this again," Rainey said. "I definitely think that we can three peat. We only lose three starters on the offense. We'll have to start working on that in January. But, right now, I have to thnak the defense. They gave us this one because they kept getting us the ball back."

A stingy Dreadnaught defense held the Raiders scoreless in the second half and indeed gave the offense plenty of opportunities. Lakeland picked off three Carroll's passes and forced three fumbles.

"The turnovers were big," junior defensive tackle John Brown said. "We worked on speed all week and we just felt like we were a step faster than they were. They were so big, but once we got the edge, they couldn't recover. This just blows me away. National champs in Lakeland. Never heard of and never thought of. We've got a chance to three-peat. Now, that would blow me away. We only return four starters on our defense, but we have almost everybody coming back on the offense. It's easier to build a defense."

The last time St. Thomas Aquinas lost a football game, they were blown out 31-7 by Lakeland in Gainesville. Tonight, before a Sun Network statewide audience these two undefeated giants met once again. Both teams came in with legendary field generals, George Smith (Aquinas) and Bill Castle (Lakeland), who have been at their respective schools for 29 and 26 years.

In attendance were a large number of former and current Dolphins players. Those players included Dan Marino, Don Strock, Nat Moore, O.J. McDuffie, Ronnie Brown, Sam Madison, and Sage Rosenfels. The attendence was over 16,000.

Don't be surprised if the Dreadnaughts continue this Dynasty for at least one more year.

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