St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) was tested in its first game as the No. 1 team in the country.
De La Salle (Concord, California) stuck with the Raiders for the entirety of the matchup, keeping the score within one touchdown entering the fourth quarter and having an opportunity late to tie.
But St. Thomas Aquinas came away with the 24-14 win over the California powerhouse with an elite defensive effort preventing the Spartans from scoring when they got close on multiple occasions.
Here are a few takeaways from the game:
STA opponents must take advantage of opportunities
In the first half, De La Salle recovered a fumble but couldn’t score. Then, trailing by seven as halftime ticked near, the Spartans got the ball to the 10 yard line. They couldn’t put it away, fumbling on a snap.
Instead of entering halftime tied at 21, St. Thomas had a lead they would not relinquish. Only three more points were scored in the remainder of the game.
Those three points, which came in the fourth quarter, were helped by a questionable call — another missed opportunity for the Spartans.
With a little more than seven minutes left, De La Salle had a fourth-and-four at the 30-yard line. Quarterback Dorian Hale dropped back and passed it near the line of scrimmage. The receiver might have come down with it, he might not have, but the ball was stripped after he landed.
The referees did not blow the play dead and St. Thomas Aquinas raced up field, where they later netted a field goal to extend the lead to 10.
Now, if it had been ruled a drop, it still would have been a turnover on downs. Whether or not you agree with the call, De La Salle would still have had a challenge to get back in the game in the final four-and-a-half minutes.
But they were there, and they were close the whole game. They just couldn’t take advantage when given the opportunity.
De La Salle can compete with anyone
If the Spartans had scored after that early St. Thomas Aquinas turnover, or if they didn’t turnover the ball to end the half, or if the questionable whistle in the fourth quarter didn’t go against them, De La Salle may have been able to pull off the win.
But as discussed in the last section, you can’t squander opportunities.
The loss of linebackers Henry To’oto’o and Isaiah Foskey left the defense with a large question mark, but that side of the ball, led by Tanner Dougherty, looked great.
Even as the game neared its close, the Spartans continued to fight. Running back James Coby nearly returned a touchdown to the house — more on that later — and the team forced a fumble.
After taking an early 7-0 lead, De La Salle fell behind. But they continued fighting and were not out of reach until the final minute or so.
Throughout the game, they proved they’re a challenge for anyone in the country.
Zion Turner looks like a good starting choice
Turner showed why he was chosen as the starting quarterback despite the transfer of three-star Brady Dean. Turner hit four-star wide receiver Marcus Rosemy on a long throw that Rosemy had to juggle to take in, and then Turner made a nice read late in the first quarter to take a 14-7 lead.
Along with a rushing score, Turner was responsible for all three STA touchdowns.
Turner is a good fit for the game management strategy of the St. Thomas Aquinas offense. He can air it when need be, but he doesn’t need to take chances for the offense to move down the field.
Turner looked like a good quarterback against a great De La Salle team. He can lead them well.
De La Salle’s running back tandem is dangerous
Shamar Garrett is a power runner. He showed off his ability to break through tackles early and often, running for 30 yards to start a drive early in th second quarter and then breaking tackles to get a 13 yard gain and end up near the 10 yard line late.
He finished the first half with 13 carries and 167 yards.
James Coby provides a nice change of pace, but he’s not just a backup running back. Coby showed his chops as a runner, scoring both touchdowns and nearly netting a third late in the game on a kickoff return.
After St. Thomas Aquinas took a 24-14 lead, Coby fielded the kickoff and took off. He raced past defenders, broke through some contact, and looked like he could go all the way — but a defender shoved him just enough to make him toe the line.
He didn’t score, but he gave De La Salle a boost after the turnover call went against them.
Coby’s production at running back is especially important with Garrett contributing on all facets of the field. On defense, Garrett made a diving play to stop a pass aimed for Rosemy. These running backs can do it all.
Derek Wingo can come through in the clutch
This wasn’t necessarily something we learned today — Wingo is a four-star player and No. 7 outside linebacker in the country, according to 247Sports — but Wingo is a true difference-maker.
With De La Salle driving strong and attempting to tie the game, Wingo got to quarterback Dorian Hale basically untouched. The offensive linemen didn’t put a hand on him; Garrett, who was faking a handoff, happened to have his elbow in the way.
But a mere elbow can’t stop Wingo. He got the sack and prevented a score, pushing the Spartans to a third-and-16 and well out of field goal range.
Wingo finished with 10 tackles and a sack and was named the GEICO Player of the Game.