High school football on FOX Sports 1 comes to the Sunshine State on Friday night at 7 p.m. ET, as Weston Cypress Bay takes on nationally ranked Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. The Lightning will try and pull the upset over one of the top high school powers in the country in the Raiders.
These are two of the high school powers in Broward County in Ft. Lauderdale. Cypress Bay, led by senior running back Matthew Dayes (N.C. State) and wide receiver Alex Montgomery (Kentucky), helped led the Lightning to a state title game back in December. They lost a thriller in Orlando to Apopka 53-50 in a game for the ages. Meanwhile, behind an arsenal of talent, St. Thomas Aquinas knocked off Tallahassee Lincoln in 2013 to win their seventh state championship.
Fast forward to this game and these are two teams trying to get back to Orlando. The Lightning is trying to replace a ton of production they lost to graduation and injuries, while the Raiders just reload.
The Skinny: Gone are Dayes and Montgomery, two players that had big time careers and post-seasons last fall for Cypress Bay. Dayes's replacement, running back Dylan Rupert, was leading Broward County in rushing before an ACL injury sustained last week. Their top receiver, senior Kadeem Goulbourne (two dozen scholarship offers), is out for the year with a broken foot. Also lost for the season are middle linebacker Keyon Auguste (broken foot) and their starting tight end and offensive tackle. The Lightning is led by head coach Mark Guandolo, widely regarded as one of the very best coaches in the state of Florida. He has now led three different teams (also Miami Southridge and Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna) to five state title appearances since 1999, winning two. Cypress Bay is currently 4-2.
Cypress Bay on offense: With Rupert out, the Lightning will turn to freshman running back Mike Epstein. He’s a young kid with a lot of talent that has earned his first start on a very big stage. Epstein, already 5-foot-11, 185-pounds, is a slasher with a lot of speed. Quarterback Lucas Tellsfen will need to protect the pigskin and get the ball to his playmakers. Meanwhile, the Lightning offensive front will need to play well, open up some running lanes and keep the Raiders tremendous defensive line at bay.
Cypress Bay on defense: This will be a challenge for the Lightning, particularly up front, where they face a massive St. Thomas Aquinas offensive front. Cypress Bay has two talented junior defensive ends in Anthony Bennett and Danny Thomas. Their backend is manned by two future BCS players in Deion Hallmon and Marquese Dudley-Gordon. They will be challenged by a pro-style passing attack from the Raiders. Hallman was previously committed to Rutgers but has opened things back up. Dudley-Gordon has a handful of BCS offers at this time and currently favors Iowa State, Cincinnati and Pitt.
St. Thomas Aquinas
The Skinny: Very few high schools can truly reload but this is typically the case for the Raiders. They lost key players like quarterback John O’Korn (Houston), running back Fred Coppet (Bowling Green) and defensive end Joey Bosa (Ohio State) to graduation. They beat Miami Northwestern in their Kickoff Classic and went to the Bayou State to defeat Louisiana superpower River Ridge John Curtis. Surprisingly, they lost for the third year in a row to Miramar and currently sit at 5-1. The Raiders are now No. 25 in the FOX Sports 50. St. Thomas Aquinas is led by head coach Rocco Casullo, who’s now 28-6 with one state title after replacing the legendary George Smith.
St. Thomas Aquinas on offense: This is a well-balanced pro-style offense. New starting quarterback Wade Freebeck (Pitt commitment) is getting better by the game and growing more comfortable with each start for the Raiders. He has a super wide receiver corps, led by the speedy Corey Holmes (Notre Dame commit) and a big 2015 target in Devante Peete (already holds offers from Florida, Miami, Alabama and others). Another wide receiver is emerging in junior Jawaun Harris, who’s having a nice season for the Raiders. Their running game is powerful with Madre London. London has recently made official visits to Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State and will trip to Illinois this weekend. Then they have a little lightning with the speedy and quick junior running back named Deltron Sands. Up front they are huge, averaging 290-pounds across the board. That group is led by Miami bound center Nick Linder.
St. Thomas Aquinas on defense: They may have firepower on offense but the Raiders are known for their defense. This group is stout at every level. The big name is Anthony Moten and he’s the leader of their 3-4 defense. This defensive end was previously committed to Florida but has now opened things back up. He’s made some big improvement to his game as a senior. Opposite Moten is one of the top 2016 recruits in Florida in Nick Bosa. Already 6-foot-3, 245-pounds, Bosa is emerging as a super talent and is a more athletic player and further along than his brother (Joey) was at the same stage. The Raider linebacking corps is physical in the middle and athletic on the outside. Keep an eye on a very good junior in Chris Hart. The backend has some big time players as well, like cornerbacks Al Harris (committed to South Carolina) and Natrone Barnes. Junior safety Tyler Cisrow is a player to keep an eye on in the future.
The Broadcast: Calling the action on the field is MLB on FOX play-by-play announcer Daron Sutton and analyst Ben Leber, a former NFL linebacker as well as Scout.com national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg, the third member in the booth. Jessica Blaylock will be reporting from the sidelines.
More: Follow @scoutrecruiting for more information on each of the top prospects in the game, @JamieNewberg for recruiting news and coverage from the game, @cfbonfox for all of the college football action from FOX Sports and @foxsports1 for all the top sports news.