The St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders advanced to the state title game for the third straight year as they blasted the Venice Indians 46-8 at Brian Piccolo Stadium on Friday night in a Class 7A state semifinal. The Raiders will look to become the first school from Broward County to win three consecutive FHSAA state championships next Friday against Plant at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
STA kept their streak alive of not losing a playoff game at home since 2003. They are now 10-2 in state semifinal games since 2004.
St. Thomas Aquinas(11-2) scored on their first drive at 8:31 of the first quarter. Running back Michael Epstein rushed off-right guard from three yards away to make it 7-0. Two possessions later, Epstein did it again with a touchdown run around the right end from three yard out at 2:02.
They put up another score with 10 seconds left in the first quarter. Wide receiver Jordan Merrell caught the ball on the right sideline from quarterback Jake Allen, stepped through several tacklers and finished off a 64-yard pass play to extend their margin to 21-0.
Asante Samuel blocked a punt on the ensuing Indians possession minutes into the second quarter. Epstein compiled his third touchdown run of the contest as he scored on a two-yard run up the middle at 9:08.
Venice(12-1) cut into the deficit when quarterback Bryce Carpenter found wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh on a crossing pattern up the middle for a 34-yard touchdown pass at the 7:28 mark. Running back Matthew Laroche raced through the right side of the line for a two-point conversion and brought it to 28-8.
The Raiders expanded their lead as Allen connected with Merrell again on an eight-yard pass to the right side of the end zone with 5:27 to go in the second.
They added another touchdown when Allen underhanded a pass to Epstein at the line of scrimmage and he rambled the last nine yards up the middle with 1:33 remaining in the first half. Wide receiver Joshua Palmer got a two-point conversion as he made a reception from Allen and increased their lead to 43-8.
A running clock was implemented for the entire second half of the game. St. Thomas Aquinas got the only score of the second half on a 28-yard field goal by Marco Salani at 2:47 of the third quarter.