FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It was sort of College Football Lite on a high school campus, and here was a three-play taste in Friday night’s second quarter that explains why.
Re-Al Mitchell, the quarterback for St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) and an Iowa State commit, threw two consecutive passes to wide receiver Devon Cooley, a UCLA commit. Both passes were incomplete but only because there was blanket coverage by St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) cornerback Asante Samuel, a Florida State commit.
On third down, Mitchell looked Cooley’s way again, but Samuel was again in tight press coverage, and the result was a sack.
That’s how it went most of the night in a nationally televised season-opening game that was part of the annual GEICO ESPN High School Kickoff.
There were 29 top-300 prospects on the two rosters – most of them on defense – and it showed as No. 5 Aquinas defeated No. 3 Bosco 9-3 in overtime.
“Our defense stayed strong the whole game,” Aquinas outside linebacker Nik Bonitto said. “We enjoy these types of moments. Our defense loves to be on the field.”
Bonitto’s passion for defense was evident. He capped a stellar individual effort with a tackle for loss on the final play.
It was one of many big plays for Bonitto, who is undeclared on college but has been linked to Louisville. Bonitto also had a sack and two other tackles for losses – and all of those plays broke up drives. In fact, one of the tackles for loss was on a first-and-goal run from the 1-yard line.
On the first possession of overtime, Aquinas quarterback Curt Casteel scored on a 1-yard sneak for the game’s only touchdown. Daniel Carter’s 8-yard run on the preceding play, complete with a spin move, set up the touchdown.
The extra point was missed wide right after a bounced snap.
Mitchell nearly threw a touchdown pass on the next play, but Aquinas was able to break it up. And, on a fourth-down flea flicker to Colby Bowman, Bonitto ran the play out of bounds to end the game.
“We have such a benefit to having great coaches,” said Bonitto of an Aquinas staff that includes Pro Football Hall of Famer Jason Taylor, who is in his first year as a Raiders defensive line coach. “We have been practicing that type of trick play all week, reverses.
“I just happened to recognize it, and I stayed to my job. I made the play.”
Bonitto shared top billing on the Aquinas defense with Samuel, who gave up nothing on passes, set the edge on running plays and had an interception and a blocked field goal.
Aquinas opened the scoring with a 37-yard, first-quarter field goal by Billy McConnell. The score was set up when a deflected Bosco pass was intercepted by Aquinas safety Adetutu Daranijo. Aquinas then reached the Bosco 10, but the nine-play drive stalled when Casteel was sacked twice in a row.
Bosco had a chance to tie the score in the second quarter, driving to the Aquinas 17. But on third-and-1, Bonitto burst through the Bosco line for a TFL, resulting in a missing field goal on the next play.
On the last drive of the half, Bosco had a pair of scoring opportunities. First, Bosco’s Josh Delgado nearly came up with a Mitchell pass in the end zone. The pass went off his hands, but Aquinas’ Daranijo was whistled for interference. Then a hit by safety Jordan Battle broke up a near-completion play at the Aquinas three.
There was just 160 yards of total offense in the first half, including 111 by Aquinas.
After a scoreless third quarter, Bosco tied the score 3-3 on a 25-yard field goal by James Duchesne. Bosco had a first-and-goal at the Aquinas one, making the field goal a bit of a letdown.
On the next possession, Casteel couldn’t get a handoff to his running back cleanly, allowing Bosco to pounce on a fumble 25 yards from the end zone. But Aquinas held again as Battle picked off an overthrown Mitchell pass.
Duchesne had a chance to give Bosco the lead with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter, but his 35-yard field goal attempt knuckled and missed way left.
“We never doubted our defense,” Aquinas coach Roger Harriott said. “We put our faith in our defense.”