FORT LAUDERDALE — Tampa Bay Tech’s bid for its first state football title drifted into a pile of mistakes, then was steamrolled by national powerhouse Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in the Class 7A final Friday night.
By the time the fourth quarter started at DRV PNK Stadium, the 35-point mercy rule running clock kicked into gear. Tech managed a late touchdown in a 42-14 loss to the Raiders, who now have a state-record 13 football championships, including the past three.
“We made way too many mistakes and bad decisions against a great football team,” Titans coach Jayson Roberts said. “We made a couple of those mistakes early in the game, and that put us in a hole that was really tough to get out of.”
In the first quarter, Tech (14-1) hiked a snap over the punter’s head that gave the ball to Aquinas at the Titans 14, had a punt of 12 yards that gave the ball to the Raiders at the Tech 13, missed a couple of defensive assignments, and had three penalties for 20 yards.
When the second quarter started, Aquinas held a 21-0 lead.
It was an uncharacteristic start for Tech, which had led in each of its first four playoff games by 10 or more points.
The Titans had a chance to cut the gap to 28-14 just before halftime when it drove to the Aquinas 15-yard line, but several throws to the end zone fell incomplete.
A touchdown would have been a huge boost because Tech was receiving the kickoff to start the second half.
Instead, the Raiders stopped the Titans on downs to start the third quarter, then followed with another touchdown drive to basically put the game out of reach. Running back Anthony Hankerson led Aquinas (14-1) with 117 yards rushing and three scores. The Panthers’ lone loss this season was in September at Jesuit, which plays for the 6A title Saturday night in Fort Lauderdale.
Amid all the Aquinas highlights, the Titans did have a couple of bright spots of their own, including receiver senior Greg Gaines, the Iowa State signee who finished with seven catches for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Xavione Washington was 21-of-34 passing for 249 yards and a touchdown, but the junior threw an interception and was sacked four times while under constant pressure.
“This is going to hurt right away, but after tonight and we have a chance to reflect on this season, we will have no reason to put our heads down and feel any shame,” Roberts said.
“We can celebrate the fact we had a 14-1 season and then when the new year starts, we can look forward to greater things to come.
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“The good news is that we return about 90 percent of the roster, so not only will I and my staff learn from this, but all those returning players will learn from this. Hopefully we take what we learned and come back next year and have a different outcome.”