It was never a fair fight.
Despite both programs entering with enormous tradition, legions of fans and nearly perfect seasons, Tampa’s Plant never truly had a chance against USA TODAY Super 25 No. 6 St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) in a 45-6 loss in the Florida 7A title game Friday in Orlando.
The win gave the Raiders a 10th state title, only the second team in Florida to do that. Bolles (Jacksonville) has won 11. Aquinas is also the first team from Broward County to pull off the three-peat.
The Raiders (12-2) jumped out to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter (aided by a poor long snap on a punt), then built it to 21-0 on the team’s first possession of the second quarter. The Raiders had scored on three of their first four possessions, but Plant struck back with a touchdown on a 1-yard plunge by Panthers quarterback Dane Frantzen.
Yet that was the lone Plant highlight from the entire game, with St. Thomas Aquinas adding 10 more points before the half to hold a dominant 31-6 lead at the break.
The Raiders’ two second-half touchdowns were practically a celebratory postscript, a pair of passes from St. Thomas Aquinas quarterback Jake Allen to wide receiver Michael Harley — the second and third time the pair linked up in the course of the game — to pad what was already a comfortable cushion. Among the connections was a 62-yarder.
Allen, in his final high school game before heading to Florida, finished with five touchdown passes.
The win is sure to spark some what-if questions. What if the Raiders, who were No. 1 in the Preseason Super 25 rankings, had held on to top two-time defending Super 25 champion Bishop Gorman of Nevada rather than losing in triple overtime? What if St. Thomas had found a way past Miami power Booker T. Washington in the season opener rather than being ruled short of the goal line in the final seconds? Instead those losses came by a total of five points.
Despite those setbacks, when all is said and done it might be the Raiders who came closest to knocking the Gaels off their perch atop the high school football world. On Friday, they played like it one last time.