Chalk up another win for Florida in the latest No. 1-versus-No. 2 showdown of the nation's top-ranked high school football teams.
St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), ranked No. 1 in this week's ESPN RISE FAB 50, became the latest Sunshine State squad to come through in prime time after turning back No. 2 Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.) 42-34 on Friday night in front of 15,000 at Lockhart Stadium.
The Raiders' win came one week after No. 11 Lakeland (Lakeland, Fla.) ventured out to California and captured a 31-30 overtime win over perennial power De La Salle (Concord, Calif.). And just last year, St. Thomas Aquinas beat national power Elder (Cincinnati) 35-24 on the road.
Despite the loss, Byrnes stayed close enough to St. Thomas Aquinas that it should remain in the top five when the next rankings are released Monday. Byrnes' offense, led by running back Marcus Lattimore and quarterback Chas Dodd, more than lived up to its hype. But four electrifying plays by Aquinas decided the game.
Two of those plays came courtesy of two-way star Lamarcus Joyner, the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the ESPNU 150. Joyner put the Raiders on the board by hauling in a 52-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Jacob Rudock., who threw for four scores overall. Then after Byrnes pulled to within 28-21 in the fourth quarter, Joyner grabbed the ensuing kickoff and zig-zagged his way for a 93-yard touchdown.
With the score tied at seven, St. Thomas Aquinas junior receiver Phillip Dorsett had the "SportsCenter" highlight of the game when he caught a pass over the middle and appeared to be going down. Instead, he put his hand on the turf, spun away from defenders and raced for a 73-yard score.
Just three plays later, junior linebacker Kenneth Hankerson came up with an interception for the Raiders, sidestepped the opposing receiver, and brought back the ball for a 41-yard touchdown.
"I think the people of our community and in South Florida and in the state of Florida want to see these games," St. Thomas Aquinas coach George Smith said. "They have great interest in them."
The last No. 1-versus-No. 2 showdown was also a Florida win, as No.2 Miami Northwestern (Miami) took down No. 1 Southlake Carroll (Southlake, Texas) 28-14 in 2007.
Each of the three previous teams since to win a No. 1-versus-No. 2 matchup since 2000 have gone on to win state championships and finished the season ranked No. 1 in the final FAB 50 rankings.
St. Thomas Aquinas, which was No. 1 last season, now has a chance to repeat as the mythical national champion. The last team to do that was Southlake Carroll in 2004 and '05. The Raiders also could make it four straight years for a Florida team to sit atop the final rankings, following Lakeland in 2006 and Northwestern (Miami) in 2007.
Aquinas' biggest roadblock for the national title could come from its own state. Previous No. 3 Elder (Cincinnati) was also upset Friday, losing to No. 40 St. Xavier (Cincinnati) 17-7. That leaves room for No. 4 Northwestern to move up to No. 2 with a win Saturday over Booker T. Washington (Miami).
For Byrnes, Dodd connected on a 24-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Jazz King on the final play of the game to finish with 416 yards and three touchdowns.
Lattimore, ranked the No. 10 recruit in the ESPNU 100, had two rushing touchdowns and was effective catching passes out of the backfield. He lost three fumbles, however.
"I think they've got a great football team, but we just made a lot of mistakes," Byrnes head coach Chris Miller said. "Not to take anything away from them -- they are great -- but that's the way the ball bounces. You've got to make plays, and we didn't make enough of them."
St. Thomas Aquinas starts district play next week riding a 28-game winning streak. Before last season, the Raiders had a difficult time in those playoffs, and hadn't won a state title since 1999.