South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)
Raiders use familiar foe as their steppingstone into 7A semifinals
FORT LAUDERDALE — St. Thomas Aquinas and Venice are onopposite sidesof the state, but in eachof thelastfive years theteams have squaredoffagainsteachother in the playoffs. Thewinnerof three of the last fourmeetings has won the Class 7Astate championship.
In Rematch No. 4, the Raiders cameout ahead. St. Thomasscored twice on offense, once on defense and once on special teams to roll to a 29-8 victory over Venice in the Class 7Aregional finals in Fort Lauderdale on Friday.
“It’s a familiar face, andwe kind of look at it froma logistical standpoint,” St. Thomas coach Roger Harriott said. “We’re not really focused too much on the actual team. Wewant tomake sureweput our guys in the best position possible to executeandnot get socaught up in the emotional aspect.”
TheRaiders gotoffto ahot start. Junior running back Anthony Hankerson scored a pair of firsthalftouchdowns(one from2yards out and another from12 yards) to put St. Thomas up 15-0.
The Raiderswent into halftime up 22-0 after five-star defensive end Dallas Turner, an Alabama commit, blocked a punt, scooped up the loose ball and fell into the end zone.
“I told one of the DB coaches I was going to block the punt, and I did,” Turner said. “I didn’t knowI wasgoing to score untilhefumbled when he fell on it.
“I didn’t even know I was that close to the end zone, so I just caught it and dove in.”
TheVenice offense consistently challenged the Raiders, who entered the game having surrendered only 74 points in their first six games. Venice quarterback Colin Blazek completed 26 of 58 passes for 248 yards in an offense that had a quick tempo.
“Atfirst, it’sheaven,” saidTurner, who was frequently in the Venice backfield. “At first, I really liked it ... untilhe started throwing theball out real fast.”
But the Raiders defense gave Venice fits. Venice scored one touchdown on a 6-yard pass from Blazek to tight endWestonWolff
late in the third quarter, but that’s all the Raiders surrendered.
St. Thomasintercepted a pair of passes, including a 102-yard picksix by safety IsaiahTaylor.
“It felt like a real turning point,” Turner said. “It just shows how good our defense really is in the red zone, of course.
“That just shows how much heart we play with, especially in tough situations.”
Now that it has beaten Venice for the fourth time in five years, St. Thomas advances to the state semifinals to face undefeated Valrico Bloomingdale.
“All ofus[needto] cometogether asone— one team, oneheartbeat,” Turner said. “Just come together and buckle down, work hard and do whatwe do.”