FORT LAUDERDALE — With the Class 3M state championship tied at 7 at halftime, St. Thomas Aquinas senior safety King Mack told his team they needed to wake up.
Then he went out and gave them the caffeine injection it needed.
Mack, a Penn State commit, returned a punt 58 yards for a score 91 seconds into the third quarter to give the Raiders a lead that it never relinquished.
Aquinas beat Homestead 38-21 on Thursday night at DRV PNK Stadium to capture its fourth consecutive state championship, which ties the state record for consecutive championships. It’s the 14th overall state championship for Aquinas, which is a state record.
“We’ve been talking it about all year,” Mack said of Aquinas winning a fourth straight title. “Making history It’s never been done at St. Thomas. It’s a blessing. It feels great.”
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Aquinas (14-0) dominated Homestead 56-7 in the regional championship game last season, but this game started much different.
After Jordan Lyle scored on the Raiders second drive, Homestead’s defense kept Aquinas’ offense in check and Temple commit Richard Dandridge scored on a pass from Joshua Townsend to tie the game early in the second quarter.
“We had a rough first half,” Mack said. “That wasn’t STA football. We had a talk and I told them, ‘Wake up, it’s time to wake up.’”
Aquinas’ defensive forced a quick three-and-out to start the second half and forced a punt. Mack picked up the low kick on a bounce, avoided two Homestead players, found a hole and outraced the Broncos to the end zone.
“We got that stop, three-and-out, they punted the ball and I returned it,” Mack said. “Momentum changed.”
Quarterback Hezekiah Harris scored on a 17-yard keeper to extend the lead to 21-7 late in the third quarter. Homestead receiver Javon Robinson scored his first of two touchdowns with 1:24 remaining in the third quarter to cut the lead to 21-13, but Aquinas came right back.
Nicholas Romero kicked a 21-yard field goal and James Madison caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Harris to extend the lead to 31-13 and start the celebration. Gemari Sands added a late touchdown run for the Raiders.
Townsend was 15 of 24 for 221 yards and three touchdowns and Robinson caught six passes for 91 yards and two scores for Homestead (12-3).
Lyle led all rushers with 93 yards on 14 carries and went over 1,000 yards for the season.