The Lincoln Trojans’ quest for a state football title started so promising Friday night. In fact, it couldn’t have started any better here at the Citrus Bowl.
John Burt raced 95 yards for a touchdown on the game’s opening kickoff.
Lincoln, however, was quickly overtaken by the big-strike ability of St. Thomas Aquinas quarterback John O’Korn and the Raiders.
Aquinas exploded for three long touchdowns in a span of 5:22 in the second quarter, riding that wave of momentum to a 41-25 victory over the Trojans for the Class 7A title.
The Raiders finished with a FHSAA Finals record 604 total yards, and O’Korn threw for 339 yards and two scores as Aquinas (13-2) clinched its seventh state title.
Lincoln (12-2), chasing its second title in three years and fourth overall, actually withstood the Raiders’ early barrage. But the Trojans simply couldn’t keep pace in a football game-turned-track meet before an announced crowd of just under 4,000.
And let’s not forget the defensive pressure displayed by Aquinas as well. The Raiders limited Lincoln to 225 total yards and recorded five sacks.
“That team was amazing, it was a very good team,” said Trojans quarterback Cameron Joseph, who completed 15 of 22 passes for 170 yards.
“We saw things on film what they did and they did some new things, but overall, we needed to stop them on defense and we needed to score more points. They had a good push and had me (running) all over the place.”
After falling behind 21-6 in the first quarter, the Trojans caught their breath.
They pulled within 21-19 on Joseph’s 1-yard sneak and 50-yard pass to Taj Williams. Their game-tying two-point conversion was erased by penalty, however. Still, it appeared that Lincoln was in good position.
But that was as close as the Trojans would get.
Aquinas answered with a field goal to close out the half with a 24-19 advantage. The teams traded big plays in the third quarter but had nothing to show for it. That changed in the fourth as the Raiders , taking advantage of an interception, erupted for 17 points to surge in front 41-19.
Lincoln closed out the scoring in the game’s final minute.
“We knew we had to come out and get on them early, but mistakes killed us,” said Williams, who had a team-high 75 yards receiving. “We fought and grinded to get back in it, but we came up short. It was still a heck of a season for us.”
Lincoln coach Yusuf Shakir was proud of his team’s effort, but pointed to early breakdowns that made it an uphill climb.
“The kids have too much pride and worked too hard to quit,” Shakir said.
“We had to put pressure on them and as long as they had the lead, they really didn’t have much pressure. The team that wins it all just has the least amount of mistakes. They had less mistakes than we had.”
There wasn’t much of a secret to the Raiders’ success. They averaged 28.5 yards per completion, nearly 10 yards per play and were just as impressive in the red zone, scoring on three of four chances. Aquinas also finished with 262 rushing yards.
O’Korn, who credited the Trojans’ tenacity, was also surprised by the Raiders’ big passing plays early.
“That (passing) wasn’t something we expected,” O’Korn said.
“We wanted to come out and really just run it right down their throat early on, but they were putting eight in the box so we took advantage of it. We just have so many weapons.”
Ben Robinson, who entered with just under 500 rushing yards in the playoffs, had 54 to pace the Trojans.
Lincoln opened the game with a bang, when Burt went the distance with the opening kickoff for a 6-0 advantage. The Trojans’ two-point conversion failed.
Aquinas, however, answered with a bigger and louder bang.
As in three long touchdowns over a span of five plays. In 5:22, the Raiders flipped a deficit into a 21-6 advantage.
And they were off to the races.
“It’s life,” Shakir said.
“When you have opportunities, you have to take advantage of them. That’s really what life is. This is a lesson they can learn, and move forward from. We will keep moving. A lot more important things happened in our world today than this game.”