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December 11, 2012
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With all apologies to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas... this is unexpected.
Entering last Friday's Class 7A state semifinals, it appeared one thing was certain - national No. 1 Bradenton Manatee looked like the best bet in Florida to win an FHSAA championship in 2012.
The Raiders had other ideas.
In a game that never really was close, STA took out the visiting Hurricanes, 35-18. It was a proud, proud program making the ultimate statement when put in the rare situation of being called an overwhelming underdog.
On the top half of the bracket, Tallahassee Lincoln won its second consecutive tight contest in the Orlando area.
Can the Trojans make it three in a row this week?
Here are three questions to ponder heading into Friday night's final.
1. Will the Raiders be able to put the emotion of last week's win behind them?
This question may sound cliched, but the truth is in the eyes of many observers, St. Thomas Aquinas entered the Manatee game as the proverbial jobber standing opposite the once and future world champion.
But the Raiders won the game up front, getting strong performances out of their offensive line and a defense that held a high-powered offense to 23 points less than its previous season minimum.
But that was then, Lincoln is now. And the Trojans will bring as much team speed as anybody in the state, so STA will need to focus on the blur in front of it, and not the one it just dispatched.
2. Can John O'Korn and Co. remain mistake-free against a secondary that forces a lot of miscues?
O'Korn, the Raiders' quarterback, has been very efficient in 2013, completing 153-of-242 passes for 2,165 yards with 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
However, in Lincoln, he will be facing a unit that has picked off 22 passes (while also recovering 17 fumbles). St. Thomas has lost 11 fumbles in 2013 (still averaging out to fewer than one-a-game) and no doubt, Lincoln will be hoping to add 12, 13 and 14 to that total.
3. Can the Trojans slow STA's rushing attack?
The Raiders have been potent on the ground this year, rushing for 2,719 yards as a team. Four different backs have at least 48 carries and four touchdowns in 2012.
And if Lincoln has had some defensive troubles anywhere this season, it has been against the run, where LHS has allowed 2,076 total yards to its opposition.
A ground control attack with some short passes and play-action tossed in would help the Raiders keep what could be the state's fastest offense on the sidelines.