5A Preview: St. Thomas vs. Lakeland

The 5A championship has two of the state's premier programs facing off for the fifth time in a state championship game. St. Thomas is looking for their second consecutive championship, while Lakeland is only one year removed from a three-peat. Both teams are undefeated. This game is 7:00 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando and will be shown live on SunSports.

ST. THOMAS(14-0) VS. LAKELAND(14-0)

A LOOK AT ST. THOMAS: St. Thomas has four state championships(1992, 1997, 1999, 2007) and has been runner-up seven times(1991, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006). FOUR of those losses have come to Lakeland(1996, 2004-2006). They lost one game(Deerfield Beach) last year en route to a state championship and are undefeated this season. In the opening game they went up to Ohio to play a strong program in Elder. Despite having some things working against them, they won that game and have been on track for the 'mythical national championship' ever since. The offense has averaged an amazing 44.9 points per game. The defense is giving up only 7.8 points per game. It is actually less than that vs. Florida competition as Elder(OH) scored the most points all season: 24. No one in Florida has scored more than 14 points.

THE SCHEDULE:

GREAT WINS: Elder(13-2) 35-24, Deerfield Beach(10-3, 6A) 65-10, at Miramar(11-3, 6A) 49-2, Largo(12-2, 5A) 35-14.

SOLID WINS: Cardinal Gibbons(6-5, 3A) 49-3, at McArthur(6-5, 5A) 38-0, Coconut Creek(7-4, 5A) 35-7, Dillard(9-3, 5A) 49-8, South Fork(9-4, 5A) 56-14

OFFENSIVE LEADERS:

PASSING

Ryan Becker: 116/180(64%), 1927 yards, 27 touchdowns, 5 interceptions

Jacob Rudock: 15/27(56%), 196 yards, 3 touchdowns

RUSHING

Gio Bernard: 152-1423(9.3), 18 touchdowns

James White: 123-836(6.8), 17 touchdowns

Beau Bucci: 61-542(8.9), 5 touchdowns

RECEIVING

Duron Carter: 37-726(19.6), 13 touchdowns

Dwayne Difton: 31-529(17.1), 5 touchdowns

James White: 17-184(10.8), 3 touchdowns

Gabe Holmes: 13-208(16), 2 touchdowns

DEFENSIVE LEADERS:

TACKLES

Conor O'Neill: 67.5

Vincent Mauro: 63

Brian Robinson: 46

Dylan Drake: 32.5

SACKS

Dylan Drake: 9.5

John Baglia: 4.5

INTERCEPTIONS

Cody Riggs: 8

A LOOK AT LAKELAND: Lakeland has won six state championships(1986, 1996, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006). They have beaten St. Thomas four times in the state championship game. All six championships have been coached by Bill Castle. They have never lost a state championship game. They are 50-15 in the state playoffs. Last year they lost in the second round to eventual state runner-up Osceola. They revenged that loss by beating Osceola twice this season. Lakeland has averaged 30.8 points per game. The defense yielded 12.3 points per game.

THE SCEDUELE

GREAT WINS: Miami Killian(10-3, 6A) 27-21, at Ridge Community(10-2, 3A) 28-15, Chamberlain(11-2, 5A) 40-20, Pine Forest(12-1, 5A) 22-21.

SOLID WINS: at Central Catholic(8-3, Pittsburgh, Pa) 35-0, Winter Haven(7-5, 4A) 36-13, Boyd Anderson(7-5, 6A) 27-22, at Osceola(8-4, 5A) 21-14, Osceola(8-4, 5A) 20-16.

OFFENSIVE LEADERS:

PASSING

Jared Haggins: 67/120(56%), 1209 yards, 13 touchdowns, 4 interceptions

RUSHING

Aaron Truedell: 114-750(6.6), 15 touchdowns

Steward Butler: 56-554(9.9), 5 touchdowns

Rodney Watson: 98-548(5.6), 7 touchdowns

RECEIVING

Javares McRoy: 43-914(21.3), 13 touchdowns

Jamal Rodman: 16-279(17.4), 2 touchdowns

DEFENSIVE LEADERS:

TACKLES

Will Lucas: 87

Quayshawn Nealy: 79

Jordan Jones: 78

SACKS

Deonate Gary: 8

Ben Brown: 4

Aaron Truedell: 4

INTERCEPTIONS

T.J. Denson: 2

ANALYSIS: This was the game that a lot of folks were calling for pre-season and now it is here. Two years ago these teams played an epic battle in Dolphin Stadium that came down to the wire, St.Thomas was stopped at the two inch line and Lakeland prevailed 45-42 in double overtime. St. Thomas has many things on the line: a mythical national championship, back to back state championships, and some revenge vs. a team who has been a thorn in their side. Lakeland just wins football games and you can throw out the statistical data which leans heavily to St. Thomas.

Lakeland must get a huge game from Haggins. No turnovers, accurate passing, and he will need to buy time with his feet as well as make some plays with them. St. Thomas is not easy to run on, but a host of options are available and Lakeland knows how to run the ball. Javares McRoy has been a consistent game-breaker, he will face his toughest test vs. Cody Riggs.

St. Thomas has been a well oiled machine on offense. They have not been stopped because of the outstanding balance. Bernard and White are a lethal 1-2 combo and get huge lanes created by a big, physical offensive line. Becker is more than capable of opening it up with three D-1 targets in Carter, Holmes, and Difton. Lakeland counters with a strong defense, but it is too much to ask to shut down this offense. St. Thomas put up 35 on Osceola last year in the state title game with many of the same players. The Lakeland defense needs to come up big on third down, you have to get St. Thomas's offense off the field when you have a chance.

Can Lakeland score with St. Thomas? That is the real question here. Lakeland must win the turnover battle and cut down on the costly penalties. They probably need a big play or two on special teams while preventing one from St. Thomas. It seems like a monumental task for a team that might be a year away. Lakeland battles hard, but comes up a little short.

St. Thomas 35 Lakeland 30

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