FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It is a big weekend for South Florida football as the University of Miami hosts Oklahoma and the Miami Dolphins look for their first win against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
On Friday night, the evening belonged to ESPN RISE FAB 50 No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas as the Raiders topped No. 2 Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.), 42-34, before a capacity crowd at Lockhart Stadium on ESPNU.
St. Thomas Aquinas two-way star LaMarcus Joyner provided the big plays the Raiders would need to take down Byrnes. Joyner beat a Byrnes defender on a slant route for a 52-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7. The explosive playmaker helped seal the deal for the Raiders on a kickoff as he weaved through traffic, cut back, and dove into the end zone on a 93-yard return.
The game had a state playoff feel to it, but the Raiders' approach seemed to be the difference in the two programs. St. Thomas simply played its own brand of football and took advantage of its opportunities and will stay atop the ESPN RISE FAB 50 poll.
The state of Florida has a reputation of swagger and toughness that other states can't seem to match on the big stage. St. Thomas set out to show the nation what Florida football is all about and the Raiders did not disappoint.
This is a special program and a special team that strives to be the best because under head coach George Smith that is what he expects.
"This team is responsible and they've benefitted from the teams that played here in the past," Smith said. "I talked to a lot of former players this week and they all told me make sure these guys know that it is their responsibility to continue what we started."
Senior cornerback Cody Riggs looks to be another in the long line of Raider greats. Riggs, the son of former NFL running back Gerald Riggs and brother of ex-University of Tennessee standout Gerald Riggs Jr., blocked a Byrnes field goal attempt that led to a Raider touchdown.
"This game meant a lot to me," the speedy corner said. "My brother and dad came out to see me and it was their first time seeing me in action, so I was excited about that. I'm hoping we can go on a run and compete for another national title."
It appears the Raiders already have a head start with their victory over Byrnes. Next week, Aquinas will go on the road to take on Nova (Davie, Fla.) in its first district contest.