O'Korn propels Aquinas into 7A state semi against powerhouse Manatee
December 2, 2012St. Thomas Aquinas High School
For St. Thomas Aquinas, Friday night was about a special kind of redemption.
A season ago, the Raiders saw their reign as state champions end in a tough regional final loss.
Friday night, St. Thomas wasn't about to let it happen again.
After a solid effort from quarterback John O'Korn and his receiving corps, the Raiders are headed back to the Class 7A state semifinals after a 38-24 win over Boyd Anderson.
For St. Thomas, the win sets up a matchup against a familiar foe: Bradenton Manatee.
The defending state champion Hurricanes, ranked the nation's top team in several major high school polls, are headed to Fort Lauderdale after a 51-0 regional final win over Fort Pierce Central.
Since 2005, the Hurricanes and Raiders have met four times in the state semis, with the Raiders winning three of those games.
Most years, St. Thomas has been the favorite. The Raiders (11-2) are in a different position now.
"I think it's the best rivalry in the state right now," said St. Thomas quarterback John O'Korn, who was 13 of 19 for 180 yards with three touchdowns. "It's a great feeling. It's been a special season. A lot of schools would say 10-2, now 11-2 is a great year. For us, our standards are raised a little bit. We're going to be ready for next week. It's huge for us."
But before thinking about a potential game against Manatee, the Raiders focused on Boyd Anderson.
Coming into Friday's regional final, both the Raiders and Cobras relied on stout defensive efforts in their first two playoff games. But for large portions of the night, there wasn't much defense to be found anywhere.
The two teams found themselves in a shootout, answering each other's big plays. And early in the fourth, this was a game still in jeopardy.
With St. Thomas leading 31-17, Boyd Anderson's quick-strike offense capped a 2-play, 59-yard drive with a 57-yard touchdown pass from Greg Hankerson to Eddie Jackson that cut the Raiders lead to a touchdown with 11:43 left.
Two possessions later, the Raiders got breathing room when O'Korn completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Mark Barr.
It was Barr's second score of the night. The senior finished with five catches for 102 yards.
"We didn't execute," said Boyd Anderson coach Wayne Blair. "It was one of those days. We had a bad day, but I'm happy that they didn't let down and these guys showed a lot of heart. We left a lot out on the field and we shouldn't have put ourselves in that situation."
Much of the second quarter was also a back-and-forth for the two teams.
The Raiders and Cobras combined for 34 points in the second that included Hankerson's first touchdown pass to Jackson, a 13-yarder, and for St. Thomas, a 16-yard touchdown run from Fred Coppet.
Minutes after Coppet's touchdown run gave St. Thomas a 14-10 lead, Boyd Anderson answered when Zachary Hill took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a score, giving the Cobras a brief lead after the extra point.
"We've seen football long enough that when you get into the third round of the playoffs, goofy things happen and that's what happened tonight," said St. Thomas coach Rocco Casullo. "I'm really proud of our offense. John was outstanding, Mark Barr made some great catches. We took what they gave us. We're where we need to b