Lincoln High coach Yusuf Shakir’s opinon hadn’t changed on Saturday.
He believed one key to winning Friday’s Class 7A state title was slowing St. Thomas Aquinas’ run game. Especially after the Raiders’ top two tailbacks combined for 252 rushing yards in their stunning win over nationally top-ranked Bradenton Manatee a week earlier in a semifinal showdown.
The Trojans succeeded early with their plan against the Raiders Friday in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. They forced Aquinas into a turnover (interception) on its opening drive and had it in third-and-long on its second possession.
“That was kind of their bread-and-butter the whole year, that’s what they wanted to do,” Shakir said of the Raiders’ run game. “We just had some mix ups in our assignments and coverage at the wrong time. Big plays killed us.”
The Raiders flipped a 6-0 deficit into a 21-6 advantage in a 5:22 span in the first quarter, scoring twice on long passes and helping set the tone for the remainder of the game.
While it was still a five-point game heading into the fourth quarter, Aquinas closed the final 12 minutes with a flurry to win 41-25 for the program’s seventh state title.
The Raiders finished with an FHSAA Finals record 604 total yards, 342 passing and 262 running. They averaged just under 30 yards per completion, 10 yards per play and converted 6 of 12 third downs.
“They (Raiders) have a great program and they are going to attract the best of the best, ” said Shakir, whose team arrived back in Tallahassee around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday.
“You have to look at the opportunities that you had, the mistakes that you made and you don’t want to make the same mistakes twice. You want to improve and get better. If we could have managed the third downs and the big plays, we would have been OK.”
Shakir left his office at 5 a.m. on Saturday and returned four hours later. His upcoming focus will be on the team’s off-season conditioning program that starts in January and the stretch run to February’s National Recruiting Day.
The Trojans lose 20 seniors, including Division I talents Reggie Davis, Taj Williams and James Hearns, among others.
“We have talented kids coming back and a great group of ninth graders,” Shakir said.
“We have to get them ready physically to play against teams like St. Thomas Aquinas. We are going to have to fill some holes and we’re going to be young, but it’s a good group.”
And it’s one with plenty of motivation.
“We have to come back harder and get ready for next year,” Lincoln junior defensive back Kendall Randolph said. “We have something to prove.”