They all go down
On opposite ends of the coast and by opposite methods, it was not a good night to be one of the top five teams in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 football national rankings.
By far, the most earth-shaking of the upsets took place in Bradenton, Fla., where host Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.) sent defending FAB 50 champion and No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) out of the Class 5A state playoffs with a 28-20 semifinal win.
The result also ended a 37-game win streak for St. Thomas Aquinas and sent Manatee to the state championship next week against Plant (Tampa, Fla.), which posted another of the big upsets on Friday over FAB 50 No. 4-ranked Lakeland (Fla.).
Manatee (13-1) won primarily on defense as the Hurricanes held the Raiders, who had been averaging 44.6 points per game, to 252 total yards. The key play of the game was a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown by Manatee's Davion Evans.
With 4:19 left, St. Thomas Aquinas had a chance when a 35-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Rudock to Phillip Dorsett sliced the lead to 28-20. But Manatee's Ace Sanders recovered an ensuing onside kick that cemented the win.
Earlier in the game, Sanders caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Hurricanes' quarterback Brion Carnes.
"We knew we had the athletes and the talent to play with them," Carnes told the Bradenton Herald. "A lot of people didn't think we were going to beat St. Thomas, so we wanted to prove everybody wrong. It was nothing but God that guided us and led us (Friday)."
It was defense that was also the story in Florida's other upset as Plant (13-1) blanked Lakeland, 20-0. The Panthers, who lost their first game 32-30 to Tampa Tech when they were not at full strength due to injuries, shut out a team that had never been shut out in any playoff game before.
Linebacker James Wilder, a 6-3, 220-pounder who is one of the top junior college prospects in the nation, spearheaded that defense and also rushed for 90 yards.
According to the Tampa Tribune, another key player for the Panthers was senior safety Eric Dungy, son of former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, who intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter to stop a late scoring attempt by the Dreadnaughts.
In next week's game, Plant will be attempting to win its third state title in the last four years.
The final huge upset of the night took place in Gardena, Calif., where host Serra (Gardena, Calif.) came up with just a few more explosive plays in pinning a 42-41 overtime triumph over FAB 50 No. 3-ranked Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.) in the CIF Southern Section Northwest Division championship.
Oaks Christian not only had a 34-game win streak broken, but also had a 28-game postseason winning streak snapped.
Oaks Christian's last loss in a postseason game came in 2002 when the Lions fell to Valley Christian (Cerritos, Calif.), 38-24, in the CIFSS Division XI semifinals. Serra's win broke a 28-game postseason win streak, which is second-longest in state history behind the record total of 41 set between 1992 and 2006 by De La Salle (Concord, Calif.).
Conner Preston threw for three touchdowns and scored on a one-yard sneak in overtime to tie the score at 41-41. Serra then won the game on a PAT by Francisco Olloqui.
Oaks Christian's Malcolm Jones, named on Thursday as the Gatorade National Player of the Year, scored his team's overtime touchdown on a short run and had four touchdowns in all. He finished with 39 carries for 328 yards and even though his team lost he did nothing to diminish his own individual stature.
"This is the first time I've ever won a football championship," said Serra All-American Robert Woods, who intercepted a pass on defense, caught a game-tying 16-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and scored on a 17-yard run. "We knew we had this game. I felt everyone was against us. The projections weren't going our way. But we just beat the No. 1 team in the state. What does that say about us?"
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