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December 14, 2012

News and notes from the state finals.

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ORLANDO -- St. Thomas Aquinas wins its seventh state title, tying Glades Day and North Florida Christian for the second-most championships.

Of course, no one was more happier than the current coach and the former long-time coach for the Raiders.

That was offensive

The 7A state title game set an offensive record with 604 total yards by the St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders - led by Fred Coppet and John O'Korn

So offensive were the Raiders' stats that only one touchdown play - O'Korn's three yard run - was under 40 yards.

Included in that record-setting performance was O'Korn's 51-yard draw to give the Raiders a lead they would never relinquish.

Add to that two touchdown passes by O'Korn of 71 yards (to Mark Barr) and 80 yards (to Corey Holmes) and the Houston commit accounted for 434 of the 604 yards.

O'Korn spread the love - handing off to Coppet for runs (including a 40 yard scamper after being hurt and pulled from the game - for the Raiders' final score). Coppet added 155 yards to the mix - giving the seniors a total of 574 yards combined. Coppet caught two passes for 15 yards.

A video or other embedded content has been hidden. Click here to view it." Not to be outdone, Lincoln started the game with a 95-yard kick-off return by John Burt and had a 50 yard touchdown pass to Taj Williams - making it five of the eight touchdowns scored on plays of 40 yards or more.

Big shadow

The transition from legendary coach George Smith to defensive coordinator Rocco Casullo hasn't been a smooth one for some St. Thomas Aquinas fans.

A week ago prior to its biggest game of the season with No. 1 ranked Bradenton Manatee, some fans (albeit not many from St. Thomas Aquinas) were on FlaVarsity.com implying that former legendary coach George Smith would come back if the Raiders lost.

Forty eight minutes later it was Casullo with the biggest laugh, guiding the Raiders to a 35-18 monumental upset over the nationally-ranked Hurricanes.

Smith was on the Aquinas sidelines for 34 years and compiled a 361-66 record winning six state titles (1992, 1997, 1999, 2007, 2008, 2010) while finishing as a state runner-up seven times (1991, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006).

After winning his sixth and final state title, two months later Smith stunned the Fort Lauderdale community by announcing his retirement.

Smith also the athletic director didn't waste any time naming his replacement, promoting Casullo, who was on Smith's staff for eleven years, winning three state titles.

Casullo's first year ended with a trip to the Elite 8 before falling 6-3 to Palm Beach Dwyer.

Only at a school like Aquinas, not reaching the state finals is considered a huge disappointing season. Since 1996, the Raiders have failed to reach the state finals, just five times over the last seventeen years.

Aquinas, who leads the state in all-time consecutive playoff appearances with 22, is tied with Jacksonville Bolles (11-3) in all-time state final appearances. Bolles is currently second with 20 consecutive playoff appearances.

"This one is for my newborn son, my daughter already has one," Casullo said. "This is a big relief, I have the best coaching staff in the world this staff has stuck together through all things and the kids are resilient."

With Smith still the AD, you might think Smith might have given Casullo some advice this week on playing in the state title game.

"He always tells me relax your fine, he's a lot looser than I am," Casullo stated. "However, Coach Smith stays away from the program and us, but who wouldn't want to take advice from him."

Nobody was happier to see Casullo win a state title than Smith.

"This is our fourteenth time at state in the last 21 years, we're now 7-7 in the finals," Smith said.

"I'm proud of this staff, you know last year the team didn't win the district and started off 3-2 and we heard a lot of negativity from fans, so it's good to be here winning again and keep the car rolling along," Casullo said. "We're not back yet still, but we are getting there especially the last couple of weeks."

No place like home

After back-to-back home playoff games, Lincoln was force to hit the road for its next two playoff games near Orlando.

With trips to Oviedo and Kissimmee Osceola, not far from the Citrus Bowl, Lincoln coach Yusef Skakir had the perfect opportunity show his team the sight of the Class 7A state title game.

According to longtime athletic director and former Lincoln head coach David Wilson, only six of the 35 current players including James Hearns and Reggie Davis played in the state title game two years ago in the upset win over nationally ranked Armwood.

Wilson went on to say the team drove by the stadium after the Oviedo win on the East-West Expressway (408) but didn't make a special trip to show the kids.

Unlike something he did several years ago, when he was the coach at Lincoln.

"In 2003, during two-a-days we toured the Swamp (site of the state championships) and came up with the motto, first to practice and last to play and to this day they still use that," Wilson said.



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