Two years ago, a 46-8 running-clock loss to St. Thomas Aquinas in the 7A state semifinals had Venice coach John Peacock scratching his head.
Following an undefeated run through its schedule, the Indians were upended when they were met with the power and depth of the Raiders in 2016.
“They have 40 guys with BCS offers,” Peacock said after that 46-8 loss. “How in the world are we supposed to compete with that I’m not sure. I’m not sure what you do. How do you approach the next offseason?
“Do you approach the next offseason and say, ‘Hey, we have to face a team that has 40 Division 1 offers.’ How are we going to beat them? Maybe hire a magician.”
However, Peacock and the Indians no longer need magic tricks to beat one of the most historically dominant football teams in the state.
Venice beat St. Thomas Aquinas, 27-20, last year at Powell-Davis Stadium on its way to its second state championship, and the Indians believe they’re now on par with the reputation of the Raiders.
“We did some things inside of our program that we do consistently throughout the year that took us to the next level,” Peacock said of beating the Raiders last year. “And, obviously, we don’t feel like we need a magician anymore. We’re going down there to win the football game. They’re a good football program, but not any better than us.”
St. Thomas Aquinas rolled through its schedule this season with just one blemish — a 43-27 home loss to Miami Central Senior High School — and is ranked as the No. 2 overall team in Florida, behind IMG Academy and one spot ahead of Venice.
This year, the Raiders roster is once again littered with kids who have commitments to some of the best football schools in the country.
The Raiders shine on defense, as they’ve shut out seven teams this season and have allowed more than six points to just two teams. Leading the efforts are several top-tier Division-I commits.
Derek Wingo, the Raiders quarterback last year, plays outside linebacker now and has offers from Clemson, the University of Miami, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Penn State.
Avery Huff, another Raiders outside linebacker, is committed to play for the Miami Hurricanes next year.
Jason Munoz, a defensive lineman, is also committed to play for Miami.
Defensive end Braylen Ingraham, who has five sacks in seven games, is committed to the University of Alabama.
Safety Jordan Battle, who leads the Raiders with three interceptions, has committed to play for Ohio State.
Jaden Davis, another defensive back, is committed to play for Oklahoma.
And that’s not even listing everyone St. Thomas Aquinas has at its disposal on defense.
“Their defense is definitely their strength, there’s no doubt about it,” Peacock said of the Raiders.
“For them, it’s all about their defense and their team speed.”
While the defense is formidable, that doesn’t mean the offense can’t be dangerous, too.
So far in the playoffs, the connection of Raiders quarterback Curt Casteel (Harvard commit) and Marcus Rosemy (offers to Florida, FSU, Miami, Ohio State) has proved to be deadly.
It took just two offensive series for the two to strike against Dwyer in last week’s regional championship, as Casteel hit Rosemy on a slant for a 63-yard touchdown.
Two drives later, Rosemy came down with his second touchdown and ended his night with four catches for 134 yards and two scores.
In their three playoff games, the Raiders have had little trouble overwhelming the competition — defeating South Miami, 77-20, before beating Fort Lauderdale, 51-0, and finally, winning against Dwyer, 35-0.
A school whose reputation precedes it, St. Thomas Aquinas is no stranger to playing in the state tournament, neither are the Indians.
“We’re the champs. We’re the ones wearing the ring, not them,” Peacock said.
“I don’t see anything that’s gonna make it look like we don’t belong there on Friday. I think we’re over the mystique of needing a magician to beat St. Thomas.
“What gives us the best chance is that they’re a recruited all-star team and we’re a hometown team of kids who have been together for a long time.”