By: Robbie Andreu
Published Monday, December 21, 1992
GAINESVILLE The images were, at times, hauntingly familiar to the St. Thomas Raiders.
A North Florida opponent wearing red and white. A strong-armed quarterback operating an intricate passing offense. A calm, sunny day at Florida Field.
But the Raiders quickly crushed any notions they might have to endure the same nightmare they did a year ago in the Class 4A state title game.
Unlike last season, when they passively let Fort Walton Beach quarterback Danny Wuerffel pick them apart in a 39-14 embarrassment, the Raiders angrily took the fight to Tallahassee Leon Saturday.
They destroyed the run. They harassed Leon quarterback Justin Whitfield with a maniacal pass rush. They took away Leon's favorite pass routes with a zone defense.
They stormed to a 24-9 victory easing the pain of last year's defeat.
"We had so many great defensive players last season and we just couldn't get it done," said senior linebacker Terry Smith, the only returning St. Thomas defensive starter. "We don't have half the defensive athletes we had last year. But we have heart so much heart."
And a wonderful game plan.
The Raiders rushed only three or four players and dropped the rest into zone pass coverages that blanketed the field.
All-County ends Jim Palmer and Brian Sadowski and tackles Wayne Blair and Mike DelliCarpini, sacking him six times on Whitfield, sacking him six times and hurrying him on numerous other occasions. When Whitfield did have time, his receivers were usually covered.
Although Whitfield finished with 188yards passing, he completed only 15 or 31 attempts and was intercepted once.
"We were well prepared," said Palmer, a senior who had two sacks.
"We were ready for their offense. We knew we would stop their running game. That meant the whole game depended on whether we could stop their passing game. We dropped a lot of people back and still got a lot of pressure on the quarterback. The coaches yelled all week that we had to have a strong pass rush. That was the key."
The St. Thomas defense appeared susceptible after a roughing the punter penalty gave Leon new life on the first offensive series of the game.
The Lions drove deep into St. Thomas territory before having to settle for a 34-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The St. Thomas defense dominated from that point.
"The defensive line put a lot of pressure on [Whitfield}. They were in there real quick," said Smith, who had an interception and a fumble recovery. "They thought they were going to be able to ram the ball down our throats and then throw on us. But we were ready to play."
Although St. Thomas at times weren't with a three-man defensive front, the Raiders still stifled Leon's ground game, giving up only 69 yards on 32 carries.
"I don't think their offense was ready for what we had for them," said Blair, a junior. "We dropped four defensive backs and three linebackers into pass coverage and we were still able to stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback.
"In last year's [state championship] game, we didn't get any pressure. Today, we came hard. What we did today makes up for what happened last year."