THE BIG GAME
In 2009, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas was the top-ranked team in the nation. Led by five-star prospect Lamarcus Joyner, to say the Raiders roster was an embarrassment of riches is an understatement.
Aquinas was loaded on both sides of the ball with running backs Giovanni Bernard (North Carolina) and James White (Wisconsin) dominating on the ground. Junior quarterback Jake Rudock (Iowa) was throwing to junior wide receiver Philip Dorsett (Miami) and Rashad Greene (FSU). Brandon Linder (Miami) and Jermaine Barton (Miami) were the stalwarts on the line.
Defensively the secondary beyond Joyner included Cody Riggs (Miami) and Keion Payne (Miami). There were some holes on that Aquinas team as Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes gained over 600 yards on offense in a nationally-televised 1 vs. 2 game but turned the ball over five times. However, that Byrnes team was also loaded with talent including running back Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina), quarterback Chas Dodd (Rutgers) and defensive ends Corey Miller (Tennessee) and Brandon Willis (North Carolina).
Aquinas was not just expected to win the Class 5A state championship but generally thinking was they could bring their ‘C-minus’ game through the playoffs and win easily.
Then they played at Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee.
Manatee never trailed and used their own version of the triplets – quarterback Brion Carnes (Nebraska), running back Mike Blakely (Auburn) and wide receiver Ace Sanders (South Carolina) to shock Aquinas 28-20.
No one saw it coming then, but now the shoe is on the other foot.
Manatee is the nation's top-ranked team. They will send nearly a dozen prospects to FBS programs after the season. Quarterback Cord Sandberg is committed to Mississippi State and has 42 starts under his belt. The defensive line is considered tops in the nation with three-star defensive tackle Derrick Calloway and UCF commit Blake Keller leading the way with ESPN watch list member and FSU commit Demarcus Christmas.
On Friday night Manatee will head to St. Thomas Aquinas in a Class 7A state semifinal with all the pressure of being number one. The Hurricanes have not been touched in the playoffs thus far outscoring their opponents 172-19.
Aquinas, however, will not back down. Under Armour All-America Game participant Joey Bosa, an Ohio State commit, leads the Raiders defense and quarterback John O’Korn (Houston commit) has shown he is capable of a big game.
This is the third time in four years that Aquinas and Manatee will face off in the playoffs. Both teams have one victory and with Manatee slated to move up to 8A next season this could be the last time the two teams meet for a while.
COACH OPENINGS MAILBAG
Q: Hey Corey, who should South Florida go with as their next head coach?
Several readers, Tampa Bay area
A: The name Willie Taggart appears to be at the top of most wish lists and for good reason. The Western Kentucky head coach is from Bradenton and has established a strong recruiting presence in the Tampa Bay area. In the last three recruiting classes the Tampa Bay area has produced 21 ESPN 150/300 prospects and none of them ended up at South Florida. Most of them didn’t have South Florida in their final group. Taggart would be a good candidate to make sure that stat changes immediately.
Q: Who do you think Florida International will hire to replace Mario Cristobal? Is FIU considered a good job?
Kevin Barrera, Miami, Fla.
A: It appears that FIU athletic director Pete Garcia was hoping to pull a coup and hire former UNC coach Butch Davis. Yesterday Davis said he was not interested and that puts FIU in a major bind. Cristobal was fired just two years removed from winning the school’s first conference championship and bowl game. FIU returned to a bowl last year and the recent success of the program made it attractive for a move to Conference USA. In all honesty this firing could turn out to be a long-term disaster for the program without a good replacement. Cristobal was not only the head coach but oversaw much of the facility upgrades and had his hand in every recruit committed to the program. FSU assistant James Coley is a name being batted around and the 39-year-old assistant has the energy to handle the multiple demands of the young program. Coley has the recruiting chops to keep FIU strong in Miami-Dade County but if he doesn’t take the job it could be tough sledding for the Golden Panthers.