Friday's matchup (ESPNU, 8 p.m. ET) between Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.) and St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) is the most highly anticipated interstate matchup we have seen since Miami Northwestern faced Southlake Carroll in 2007. On Friday night, No. 1 (Aquinas) hosts No. 2 in a showdown between two of the top programs in the country. St. Thomas Aquinas (3-0) is coming off both a state and national title in 2008, and it has reloaded in 2009. Byrnes (5-0) returns a plethora of talent from a state championship squad and has cruised out of the gates this fall. Collectively, the contest will showcase five ESPNU 150 prospects and a multitude of four- and three-star athletes.
Byrnes head coach Chris Miller has his offense firing on all cylinders heading into Friday night's contest. The Rebels' spread attack is explosive (averaging 60 points per game); well-balanced; and led by ESPN's No. 2-rated running back, Marcus Lattimore. Defensively, tackle Brandon Willis and end Corey Miller form arguably the best D-line tandem in the country. Both are committed to play for Tennessee and will be called upon to provide plenty of upfront pressure on Aquinas' offense.
Legendary Aquinas head coach George Smith is in his 33rd season and looking for his team's 28th consecutive win. He has one of his most talented Raiders squads in recent years, which says a lot considering the program's national success. Aquinas has great talent and depth on both sides of the ball, but its strength lies in its defensive backfield. That unit is headed by ESPN's No. 1 and No. 8 corners, Lamarcus Joyner and Cody Riggs, respectively.
Byrnes and Aquinas are two teams equally confident in winning and extremely well coached. Both programs have faced opponents with similar speed and athleticism in recent years but perhaps not as technically sound and disciplined. This contest may be won through the figurative chess match by the team that makes the right adjustments and surrenders fewer turnovers. Aquinas will be challenged upfront offensively, but the biggest matchup to keep your eye on will take place in the air between Byrnes' talented receiver corps and Aquinas' top-level defensive backs.
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