ORLANDO – It was the game we all wanted. It was the matchup we had been waiting to happen for precisely a decade. The two teams had not met at this stage since 2008, which was a night to forget if you’re a Lakeland fan. That night, St. Thomas Aquinas blasted the Dreadnaughts 56-7. On a cool and breezy Friday night in Orlando some ten years later, it was the Dreadnaughts with the final laugh. Head Coach Bill Castle and his squad jumped out to a 10-0 lead, and while tested at times—never looked back en route to their seventh championship since 1986.
The two teams traded punches like heavyweight fighters in the first quarter of the game with all possessions ending in punts or missed field goals, but following the first of two missed field goals by Aquinas in the first half, the ‘Naughts Demarkcus Bowman took the handoff on the first play from scrimmage 80 yards to the house to put Lakeland on top 7-0 to start the second quarter. After the second miss, the Dreadnaughts went on a 15-play, 59 yard drive that ended in three points for Lakeland and a 10-0 lead heading into the break.
Both teams traded fumbles to start the third quarter, then Aquinas was finally able to break the scoring drought with a 2-play, 32 yard drive following a short field on the turnover. But on the kickoff, it was Fenley Graham’s turn to twist the knife into the Raiders’ torso with a 99-yard kickoff return to push the lead to 17-7. Aquinas’ Daniel Carter brought STA closer with a 5-yard run to pull within three. Lakeland’s Jace Hohenthaner was good again from 25 yards out to extend Lakeland’s lead to 20-14 midway through the third quarter. Following a pair of Jaharie Martin touchdown runs, the ‘Naughts found themselves up three scores with just over 5 minutes left in the contest and a state title eminent.
St. Thomas Aquinas finishes their season at 13-2, with their lone defeats coming to teams with a combined record of 26-3. Lakeland finishes their season undefeated at 15-0 and is 69-25 all time in the postseason. Their record in championship games is now 7-1 with the last four state titles come at St. Thomas Aquinas’ expense.
Lakeland’s 2006 Path to the Championship: (Average margin of victory: 22.8 points)
Brandon (W, 49-6)
Gaither (W, 37-0)
Lake Gibson (W, 24-3)
Mainland (W, 35-24)
St. Thomas Aquinas (W, 45-42 2OT)
Lakeland’s 2018 Path to the Championship: (Average margin of victory: 25 points)
Wiregrass Ranch (W, 43-7)
Kathleen (W, 29-7)
Plant (W, 49-30)
Edgewater (W, 56-21)
St. Thomas Aquinas (W, 33-20)
Lakeland 44-277 (Bowman with 211 yards on 22 carries)
St. Thomas Aquinas 34-184
Lakeland – 93
STA – 220
30 – The number of tackles combined for Khalil Crawford (9), Quadir Hall (7), Jay Hampton (7), Lloyd Summerall (7)
St. Thomas Aquinas 8-61