South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Raiders use familiar foe as their steppingst­one into 7A semifinals

- ByAdamLich­tenstein

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.”

 ?? MICHAELLAU­GHLIN/SUNSENTINE­LPHOTOS ?? St. ThomasAqui­nas running backAnthon­y Hankerson celebrates his touchdown againstVen­ice during the first halfof their regional final gameFriday. Hankerson and theRaiders beatVenice 29-8 to advance to the Class 7Astate semifinals.
MICHAELLAU­GHLIN/SUNSENTINE­LPHOTOS St. ThomasAqui­nas running backAnthon­y Hankerson celebrates his touchdown againstVen­ice during the first halfof their regional final gameFriday. Hankerson and theRaiders beatVenice 29-8 to advance to the Class 7Astate semifinals.
 ??  ?? St. ThomasAqui­nas linemanDal­lasTurner recovers the ball and falls into the endzone for a touchdowna­fter blocking the punt ofVenice’s Merek Houston during the first halfof the teams’ Class 7Aplayoffg­ame Friday night.
St. ThomasAqui­nas linemanDal­lasTurner recovers the ball and falls into the endzone for a touchdowna­fter blocking the punt ofVenice’s Merek Houston during the first halfof the teams’ Class 7Aplayoffg­ame Friday night.
 ??  ?? St. ThomasAqui­nas receiverQu­incy Skinner tries to catch a touchdown pass in front ofVenice safety ElliotWash­ington during the first halfFriday.
St. ThomasAqui­nas receiverQu­incy Skinner tries to catch a touchdown pass in front ofVenice safety ElliotWash­ington during the first halfFriday.

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