In game filled with big plays and wild turns, Florida power beats hometown Alabama juggernaut.
By Riley Lee, Maxpreps.com
HOOVER, Ala. – In game chock full of offensive standouts, defensive end Bryan Cox was the man of the day t Hoover Bucs Stadium as St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), ranked fourth in the MaxPreps National Top 25, downed sixth-ranked Prattville (Ala.) 34-31 in the season opener for other prep football powers. Host Hoover played 12-ranked South Panola, MS in the final game of the ESPN nationally-televised prep football doubleheader Saturday afternoon.
Cox, whose NFL-playing dad now coaches the Miami Dolphins, rushed from the outside as he watched a Prattville screen pass begin to develop midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s season opener Lions quarterback Justin Thomas, under a heavy rush, attempted to hurl a pass out of harm’s way toward the Prattville sidelines when Cox batted the ball into the air, caught it at the St. Thomas Aquinas 38-yard line and sped his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame down the right sidelines 61 yards to the Prattville 1-yard line.
One play later, quarterback Max Lescano sneaked in for the touchdown and what had been a precarious 27-21 Raiders lead was now a commanding 34-21 margin with just over 17 minutes remaining.
“I thought I got into the end zone,” Cox said. “But it didn’t matter. We got the touchdown anyway. My job was to contain on the outside and when I saw the ball coming my way I knew I had to catch it. Then I took off toward the end zone.”
St. Thomas Aquinas Coach Rocco Casullo said the play was pivotal in the win.
“Prattville is a great football program, one I have a lot of respect for,” Casullo said. “We knew from out scouting reports they like to throw the screen, and Bryan did exactly what we ask him to do. That play really us the boost we were needing at the time.”
Prattville Coach Jamey DuBose also called the play a crucial mistake by the Lions. “Those kinds of things happen when you play this game, but you somehow have to try to find a way to eliminate those kinds of mistakes in a big game against a great team like St. Thomas Aquinas. It was just one of those things that we’ll work on.
“Our goal is to win a state championship, and I liked the way our kids played today and how they fought and fought. We did a lot of great things and we’ll get better.”
Raiders senior running back Fred Coppet rushed for 106 yards in the first half but had trouble getting past the strong Lions front seven in the second half. He finished with 111 yards on 19 carries and also caught a 32-yard pass.
Prattville’s Thomas turned in an outstanding effort. The University of Alabama commitment completed 8-of-11 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 104 yards on 14 carries. George Michae Rowe also had 39 yards on six carries. He scored the game’s first touchdown on a 3-yard run with 6:57 left in the first quarter. The TD was set up when Jimmie Stoudenmire blocked Raiders punt to give the Lions good field position at the St. Thomas Aquinas 32-yard line.
The running combination of Dami Ayoola and Coppet quickly moved the Raiders to the Lions 8-yard line, and Lescano, who was 8-of-23 passing for 167 yards and two touchdowns, capped the drive with a TD pass to Nicolas Shepherd in the back of the end zone. Nolan Bieck, who kicked every kickoff of the afternoon into the end zone for the Raiders, missed the extra point, and Prattville held a slim 7-6 lead after one quarter.
After Prattville stretched the lead to 14-6 on Stanley Mays’ 10-yard run, The Raiders scored three straight touchdowns in a six-minute stretch to build a 27-14 first half lead. Ayoola scored on a 3-yard run, Gavin Sinclair raced 69 yards for a touchdown on a middle screen pass from Lescano, and Lescano ran in from the 9-yard line.
Prattville’s Brandon Smith. hauled in a Thomas pass and raced 45 yards with 56 seconds left in the quarter to close the gap to 27-21 at intermission.
After Cox’s interception improved the Raiders lead to 34-21, Prattville’s Thomas found a seam in the Casullo’s defense for 46-yard gain to the St. Thomas Aquinas 30. Rowe then sped 23 yards on the next play to the 7 and Jalen Whitlow scored on a 7-yard run on the next snap to cut the lead to 34-28.
Prattville’s defense, which limited the Raiders to minus-4 yards rushing in the second half, put the Lions in position to win in the fourth quarter. Early in the period Prattville moved to the 17-yard line and settled for a 34-yard Michael Gaither field goal to cut draw the Lions to within three at 34-31.
Prattville return specialist Jerimiah Gardner, who had a 22-yard punt return to set up the field-goal march, took the next Raiders punt at the Lions 34-yard line and ran 66 yards down the left side of the field for what looked like a go-ahead touchdown on the next series. The touchdown was called back, however, for a hold, and the Lions turned the ball over on downs at the Raiders 30-yard line.
Coach DuBose’s team got the ball back with 1:51 to play at the Lions 32, but fourth-down play was foiled when University of Miami commitment Jelani Hamilton sacked Thomas fourth down to seal the win. Thomas finished with three tackles, and Cos had seven stops in addition to his interception.
Prattville, which is touted to have as many as 22 Division I prospects on its 2011 squad, finished with 202 yards rushing and 140 passing – 342 total. St. Thomas Aquinas had 153 yards rushing and 167 passing for 320 yards.The Raiders, who can boast NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, women’s tennis star Chris Evert and former Chicago Bears fullback Brian Piccolo as alums, have now won 57 of their last 59 games.
Leading Prattville’s defense was Alexander Gorey with eight tackles.