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Aquinas falls to Lakeland in state final

Loss mars Raiders’ return to championship game after back-to-back titles

ORLANDO | St. Thomas Aquinas’ return to state glory was derailed by a force known as running back Demarkcus Bowman.

Bowman ran for 211 yards and one touchdown to lead the Lakeland Dreadnaughts past the Raiders 33-20 Friday in the Class 7A FHSAA state football championship at Camping World Stadium.

“He’s an extraordinary back,” said St. Thomas Aquinas coach Roger Harriott. “We weren’t able to penetrate the backfield.”

Lakeland (15-0, No. 3 in The Associated Press’ 7A poll) and St. Thomas Aquinas (No. 1 in The AP’s 7A poll and No. 7 in USA Today’s National poll) have a bit of history in state finals having won a combined 16 titles. However, Bowman and the Dreadnaughts denied the Raiders their 11th title. Lakeland is now 6-2 against the Raiders in the playoffs.

Lakeland quarterback Dywonski McWilliams runs for yardage as St Thomas Aquinas' Tyreak Sapp zeroes in for the tackle on Friday, Dec. 7.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

Lakeland quarterback Dywonski McWilliams runs for yardage as St Thomas Aquinas' Tyreak Sapp zeroes in for the tackle on Friday, Dec. 7.

St. Thomas Aquinas defenders Tyreak Sapp, left, and Derek Wingo celebrate a third-down stop by signaling fourth down in the first half Friday against Lakeland.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

St. Thomas Aquinas defenders Tyreak Sapp, left, and Derek Wingo celebrate a third-down stop by signaling fourth down in the first half Friday against Lakeland.

St. Thomas Aquinas quarterback Curt Casteel tries to break a tackle by Lakeland's Lloyd Summerall during the second half Friday.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

St. Thomas Aquinas quarterback Curt Casteel tries to break a tackle by Lakeland's Lloyd Summerall during the second half Friday.

St. Thomas Aquinas receiver Marcus Rosemy (81) stiff-arms Lakeland defender Jay Rolle as Lakeland's Fenley Graham (1) races in for the tackle Friday at the FHSAA 7A state championships.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

St. Thomas Aquinas receiver Marcus Rosemy (81) stiff-arms Lakeland defender Jay Rolle as Lakeland's Fenley Graham (1) races in for the tackle Friday at the FHSAA 7A state championships.

The Raiders, who lost to Venice in the state semifinals last year, exacted their revenge against the Indians this year and returned to the state final for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 2015-16.

“This year we were like a family, a brotherhood,” said St. Thomas Aquinas running back Daniel Carter, who ran for 118 yards and one touchdown. “We will risk our lives for them. I love this team. I love my brothers.”

Raiders’ coach Harriott said his team fought through adversity. Several players were sidelined with injuries for the state final. “I thought our guys gave a great effort,” he said.

But they struggled to stop the Dreadnaught run attack, which racked up 277 yards. They had beaten every team by at least 17 points this year, and many more by much worse.

Bowman wasn’t the only threat for the Dreadnaughts. Lakeland quarterback Dywonski McWilliams added 93 yards passing and 29 yards rushing. McWilliams also had a touchdown pass called back by penalty in the first quarter.

“It was a very good team that we played,” Carter said. “Hats off to them. They played a good game.”

Bowman put the Dreadnaughts ahead for good with an 80-yard run up the middle 2 minutes into the second quarter, and the Dreadnaughts got a 38-yard field goal from Jace Hohenthaner for a 10-0 edge.

While Lakeland built its lead, St. Thomas Aquinas committed several miscues. The Raiders missed a couple of field-goal attempts in the second quarter and lost two fumbles, but still trailed only 10-0 at halftime.

“We had turnovers, and we had penalties, which changed the trajectory of the game,” Harriott said. “Lakeland was able to advance and capitalize on our mistakes.”

St. Thomas Aquinas came out with more fury in the second half. Raiders quarterback Curt Casteel broke the shutout with a 15-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Lakeland, however, had an answer for every St. Thomas Aquinas score. Fenley Graham returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and a 17-7 lead.

Lakeland then followed a Carter 5-yard touchdown run with 16 consecutive points. Jaharie Martin rushed for two touchdowns during that run.

“We thought we wanted it more (in the second half),” Carter said. “We executed very well.”

Casteel completed 17 of 24 passes for 220 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to The’Andris Freeman with 1:57 left in the game. But three attempts at a two-point conversion either fell incomplete or were erased by penalty, leaving St. Thomas Aquinas down 33-20. The Raiders’ last hope was erased when the officials called Jordan Battle out of bounds when he recovered an onside kick.

Carter, who committed to the University of Pittsburgh, ran for 118 yards on 15 carries. He finished his senior season with 1,103 yards. He also finished his career with 2,630 career rushing yards and 44 touchdowns.

St. Thomas Aquinas will lose 15 senior starters, many of whom will play college football next year.

“I will always love these boys, and I will love this program and all the coaches. It’s just a learning lesson,” said Harriott.

He said competition among the returning players should help the Raiders replace those seniors. If things work out according to plan, he sees the Raiders being back in the state final.

“Hats off to Coach (Bill) Castle and the Dreadnaughts,” Harriott said. “They came out with fury. We hope they do well again, so we can have a rematch.”

St. Thomas Aquinas cheerleaders and the student section exchange cheers during the first half Friday.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

St. Thomas Aquinas cheerleaders and the student section exchange cheers during the first half Friday.


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