Panthers and Raiders both feature dual-threats at the position
By Christy Cabrera Chirinos, Sun Sentinel
When reclassification was announced, this was the matchup most high school football fans expected. St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Dwyer in a Class 7A regional final game. Over the last 10 years, both programs have emerged as state and national powers.
Expectations have been high all season for both teams, and while their respective paths to Friday night's game have featured different challenges, the Raiders and Panthers share plenty of similarities.
One of the biggest?
Both have dual-threats at quarterback.
After some late-season struggles on offense, St. Thomas has started to regularly feature two signal callers, senior Max Lescano and junior John O'Korn.
That's given the Raiders some new options at the position.
Dwyer, meanwhile, has thrived, thanks in part to the continued development of Georgia commitment Faton Bauta, a transfer from New York, who according to Panthers coach Jack Daniels, had never played quarterback full-time until this season.
Now, with so much at stake, the Raiders (10-2) and Panthers (11-1) will again need strong performances under center to keep their dream of a state championship within reach.
"I think it's going to be two high-caliber teams going against each other and the quarterback position is going to be key," said Bauta, who ran for 110 yards, threw for 132 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in the Panthers' 45-14 regional semifinal win over Northeast. "The quarterback controls the whole tempo of the game. What he does and what he makes his teammates do is important."
After stumbling in its regular-season opener against Glades Central, Dwyer has won 11 straight, thanks in part to stellar play from its defense and Bauta's growth.
Entering Friday's game, he has completed 65 of 136 passes for 1,212 yards with 16 touchdowns.
He's also rushed 106 times for 532 yards and 10 touchdowns, drawing comparisons to a well-known Denver Broncos quarterback and former Florida star.
"They call him 'Little Tebow' and why not?" said St. Thomas coach Rocco Casullo. "His stats don't lie."
Bauta's ability to run and throw can create problems for opposing defenses, but St. Thomas is confident entering Friday's game at Dwyer.
That's because while the Raiders may not have one weapon as imposing as Bauta, they have two effective quarterbacks who have helped St. Thomas bounce back after a 21-16 district-championship loss to Cooper City last month.
Against American in its regional quarterfinal, St. Thomas used packages that featured both Lescano and O'Korn under center, while occasionally using Lescano at receiver and running back.
Since implementing those new plays, the Raiders are 2-0 and have outscored their two playoff opponents 85-24 while generating 668 yards of offense.
"I think everyone is really excited about what we're doing because it gives our offense a whole new dimension," said Lescano, who has thrown for 1,140 yards and rushed for 272 more. "It's fun for me because I get to play a whole bunch of new positions and get the ball in different places."
Adds O'Korn: "I think this makes us tougher to defend. Teams have to prepare for twice as much and right now, we're feeling like we can't be stopped. I think that's the mind set we have to have."