The timeworn adage says “defense wins championships”. On the way to winning championships, defenses win games.
St. Thomas Aquinas’ defense continued its elite-level, dominant play – recording its third shutout of the season as well as producing points Friday night to spark the Raiders’ 14-0 win over visiting Deerfield Beach in front of 2,000 fans.
Aquinas (4-1) held the Bucks to just 169 yards of total offense, totaled four sacks, and forced two turnovers.
Senior defensive end Nik Bonitto created both turnovers for the Raiders – including a pick-six in which he tipped a screen pass, caught it, and walked a yard into the end zone to put St. Thomas up 7-0 with just under three minutes left in the second quarter.
Bonitto, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound 4-star prospect, finished with 2.5 sacks – one of which was a strip-sack that the Raiders recovered midway through the fourth quarter.
After Bonitto’s pick-six, the Raiders defense gave its offense a short field to work with after it stopped Deerfield Beach’s ensuing drive deep in its own territory.
St. Thomas essentially put the game out of reach when junior running back Daniel Carter capped an 11-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run – putting the Raiders up 14-0.
Deerfield Beach (3-2) threatened to score on a pair of late fourth quarter drives, but the Raiders defense stiffened and ended up stonewalling the Bucks.
St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Roger Harriott spoke about his defense, which has allowed just 15 points in five games, and Bonitto’s standout performance Friday.
“Coach Riley has been doing an exceptional job at inspiring our players,” Harriott said. “The staff as a whole has been impressing upon the guys all the little things that it takes to come out and put on great performances.”
“I think Nik is just scratching the surface of how good he can be,” Harriott added. “Coach [Jason] Taylor is just in awe over this kid. He’s still has a ton of growing to do, but he’s going out there and playing with sheer excitement and love for his teammates. The sky is the limit for Nik Bonitto.”
As good as Bonitto and mountainous 6-foot-6, 350-pound senior defensive tackle Dejmi Dumervil-Jean, who consistently bulldozed his way through Deerfield Beach’s offensive line Friday, were for St. Thomas’ defense – the offense struggled mightily.
Aquinas finished with just 171 yards of total offense, committed 11 penalties for 91 yards, and ended up with more punts (7) than first downs (6). Junior running back Nigel White led the team with a game-high 84 rushing yards on 16 carries, but quarterback Curt Casteel went just 6-of-8 for a mere 27 yards.
St. Thomas’ offensive woes don’t only fall on offensive coordinator Ryan Collins and company; much credit is due to the Deerfield Beach defense. The Bucks mostly kept Aquinas in check and only gave up the second quarter touchdown because of the short field.
Deerfield Beach’s offense had a few productive moments – like Mason Mobley’s 25 second-half rushing yards and a game-high four receptions by senior tight end Daniel Barker – but senior quarterback Kyle Kaplan was just 11 for 23 passing while the running back duo of Jaylan Knighton and Jakari Norwood combined to finish with just 57 rushing yards.
Harriott said that his team, which fell to No. 23 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national rankings after its loss to Arizona Centennial this past week, is still a work in progress.
“We’re trying to use the adversity that we’re facing to our benefit,” Harriott began. “It’s a great opportunity to help the players unite and become motivated. We have to clean up the penalties, but this is a work in progress and we’re going to continue to improve and finish this season strong with a St. Thomas Aquinas attitude.”