When: Friday, 9:30 p.m. EST
Where: The Star, Frisco, Texas
Resume: St. Thomas Aquinas is the Florida 7A state champion and has won nine straight since a triple-overtime loss to No. 1 Bishop Gorman (Nev.); Bingham is the Utah 5A state champion and has yet to lose, racking up a 14-0 record.
About St. Thomas Aquinas: While other programs might have a more legitimate claim against a third consecutive USA TODAY Super 25 crown for Bishop Gorman, none has come closer to ruining things for the Gaels than St. Thomas. The South Florida powerhouse had Gorman on the ropes, only to watch Bishop Gorman bounce back with a final gut punch in triple-overtime.
The Raiders are back-to-back-to-back Class 7A state champs, and few teams even came close to STA’s balanced attack. What makes St. Thomas so hard to keep close to? The defense, plain and simple. Except for Gorman (which scored 25 points), Miami Booker T. Washington (which scored 27 on opening night) and Flanagan (which scored 19), the Raiders never allowed more than 10 points in a game. The team pitched five shutouts and held five others to single scores.
Of course, the best defense in the land won’t win many games without an offense that scores points. That’s never been a problem at STA, and this year was certainly no exception. Five-star wide receiver Trevon Grimes the top wideout in the Class of 2017, is the Aquinas headliner, but he’s sidelined with an ACL tear in his left knee. No sweat. Three-star pro style quarterback Jake Allen, a Florida commit, and three-star running back Kyshaun Bryan, a South Carolina pledge, have made sure that the Raiders offense didn’t miss a beat, thanks in part to wide receivers Mike Harley (a West Virginia commit) and Josh Palmer (a Syracuse pick). Expect more of the same against Bingham. Running back Mike Epstein posted nearly 1,500 total yards.
About Bingham: Another year, another seamless state title for the Miners. No, there wasn’t the high-profile matchup against Bishop Gorman this time around, but that doesn’t take anything away from just how dangerous Bingham has been.
Just check out the final scores: 14 straight wins, with only Jordan and Lone Peak — in the state title game — putting any kind of a scare in Bingham, which has played for six of the past nine Class 5A state crowns. The Miners lead from the front on both sides of the ball, with defensive tackle Jay Tufele and defensive end Langi Tuifua dominant run stuffers who can get to the quarterback and Vanderbilt commit Cole Clemens and Tavian Myers setting the stage up front on offense.
That makes for a great ground game, which is balanced by strong quarterback play from Matt Degn, who averages around 150 yards per game despite limited use.
What to expect: Bingham needs a quick start, or the game could get away from the Miners quickly. That won’t be easy against the Raiders’ tight defense, which features six members who have star ratings from the major recruiting services. Conversely, the Miners have to hold back STA or else they’ll be forced to open up the playbook, which could lead to an offensive unwinding and precisely the kind of risks that the Miners are not set up to take.
If the game does go Bingham’s way early? Then we should all have a terrific game worth watching ahead.