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ORLANDO - The Saint Thomas Aquinas Raiders are the 7A State Champions after using 17-unanswered points in the fourth quarter to pull away and defeat Lincoln 41-25 at the Citrus Bowl on Friday Night.
The Raiders helped Head Coach Rocco Casullo earn his first title and the school's seventh, while legendary former coach George Smith stood by closely. Senior QB and University of Houston commit John O'Korn amassed 435yards of total offense and 3TD's en route to his team and their 605yards of output finishing 11-26, 339yards and an interception officially.
The Raiders were also aided greatly by Senior RB Fred Coppet's 155 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown in addition to their smothering defensive front that held a potent Lincoln offense to just 225 yards and 2TD's.
One of Lincoln's TD's came on John Burt's 95yd return to start the game. The Raiders on defense were lead by Javaris Hendricks and Joey Bosa's combined 5 tackles for losses totaling 28yards in addition to their three combined sacks.
Things started great for Lincoln. That's until O'Korn brought his offense on the field and within less than five minutes on the scoreboard, it was already 21-6 in favor of Aquinas.
The Trojans fought back to make the game less than a touchdown by halftime with the play of Cameron Joseph (15-22, 170yds, 2TD's) and Taj Williams, who finished the game with 4 catches for 75 yards.
Both teams went scoreless through the entirety of the third quarter, but O'Korn's 3yd TD run with just under 9 minutes to play to put the score at 31-19 is when things began to unravel for the Trojans.
"They converted. They made the plays and we didn't," said Head Coach Yusuf Shakir "That's what it basically comes down to. Those third down situations on offense and defense killed us; they made the plays and we didn't. "
When asked if Lincoln made adjustments to counter the quick strike on O'Korn and company at the half, Shakir stayed with his no excuses mentality.
"Not really because we had a couple of miscues and broken plays on a couple of those big plays in the first half and we felt that it was simply a matter of execution in the second," Shakir said. " It (O' Korn's play) wasn't much of an issue, we had some busts. That's the way this game is sometimes."
"The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins and that's what happened tonight," Shakir added. "I knew that if we could get a score right there we could have a shot, but we had to continue to put pressure on them (up front) and that's something we just didn't do very well."
A grin from ear-to-ear firmly in place, Coppet tried to put his experience into words.
"Amazing; it was amazing. I don't know how I did it, but my o-line gave me the holes and I just hit them," said Coppet. "That was a good team over there. I can't take a single them from them the way they played tonight.
"They fought all four quarters, but my team just wanted it more. Coach just said at halftime, 'we got it' and I don't know what they meant at the time, but it was faith," Coppet added. "We listened to what he said and came away with the victory. Aquinas Football isn't just football, it's a brotherhood; it's tradition and we're all family and played like it tonight."
Both coaches have to console their players for different reasons following the game, but Shakir wasn't going to mince words with his group of seniors that have taken this team to two title games in three seasons; also providing perspective and making reference to the tragic events in Connecticut.
"It's just life, you know? You have opportunities, you gotta take advantage of them and that's really what life is," Shakir said. "You either do it or you don't. There's really no special way to say it, this is something small; it's big, but it's small. This is something they can learn from and move forward from and they just got to learn that when they get the opportunity they got to prepare for greatness.
" The sun will still come up tomorrow for them," Shakir added. "There's a lot of things more important than this game tonight in this world."
To the victor go the spoils though and Aquinas Head Coach Rocco Casullo knew that he had something special, and tried to continue that message even in a moment of adversity for the Raiders; something they weren't exactly accustomed to since their loss in October to Miramar.
"First, my hat goes off to that Lincoln Coaching Staff. They did a great job and presented a ton of challenges for us tonight," Casullo said. "It's just; I'm speechless right now. We saw some things on film and we made some adjustments at half and that was basically the formula."
Casullo gushed about the performance of his Senior signal-caller (O'Korn) and his running back(Coppet).
"He runs like that every week. He practices like that and he plays like that. Full speed, and always at full speed" Casullo said of Coppet.
"The players took care of the business. That's how good our captains are; I don't even need to say anything. We've got some top-notch wide receivers; Corey Holmes was phenomenal tonight, they (Lincoln) tried to do some zero coverage and we picked up the blitz and Corey was wide open."
John (O'Korn) made the right reads though. If you had seen this kids' progression from last season to this one it's unbelievable."
Casullo was also confident in his assessment like Shakir was in his halftime plan of adjustments; "I told them at halftime I said, fix your mistakes and this game is over. One coach took the defense, I took the offense and that was it. The players took care of the business. That's how good our captains are; I don't even need to say anything."