ORLANDO — Perhaps another team would be in awe of St. Thomas Aquinas’ national ranking.

Not Lakeland.

Perhaps another team would be in awe of St. Thomas’ seven titles in the past 10 years.

Not Lakeland

Perhaps another team would be in awe of St. Thomas’ 10 top 100 players in the composite rankings.

Not Lakeland.

The Dreadnaughts weren’t in awe of the Raiders, especially the defensive. In fact, they came into the game with a chip on their shoulder. Lakeland coach Bill Castle called the defense the strength of the team, and his defenders did not let them down. Indeed it was a team effort — Demarkcus Bowman’s 211 yards rushing, Fenley Graham’s 99-yard kickoff return — but there’s no doubt that Lakeland’s defense made a decisive impact in the Dreadnaughts' 33-20 victory over the Raiders that gave Lakeland and Bill Castle a seventh state title.

The Dreadnaughts were swarming, pressuring the quarterback and gang-tackling the runners.

“To us, all the rankings and all that really don’t matter,” defensive tackle Trey Huntley said. “It matters who you line up in front of and what you’re going to do. We practiced all week, got pressure. They were big, but they were high. If we hit them in the chest, they’ll go backward, and that’s what we try to do.”

Sure St. Thomas piled up 404 yards of total offense, but look in the dictionary for meaningless yards, and you’ll see the Raiders’ stat sheet from this game.

“We wanted to take something away, and it was the run, obviously,” defensive coordinator Bill Buldini said. “They came out and tried to pound it. We had a couple of breakdowns, and they popped a couple, but we stiffened up. Our defensive line played lights out.”

The Dreadnaughts made a statement early.

It sure wasn’t the start Lakeland was looking for on offense. The Dreadnaughts had fourth-and-17 at the 13 and a 27-yard punt gave the Raiders the ball at the Lakeland 40 on their first possession. And the Raiders punted from the Lakeland 40 on their first possession.

Where to start for defensive heros? Sure the front seven was as tough as ever, putting pressure on St. Thomas quarterback Curt Casteel and coming up with four sacks. But let’s start with defensive back Quadir Hall.

In the second quarter with Lakeland leading 7-0, the Raiders were poised to answer the Dreadnaughts’ touchdown on the next possession. Daniel Carter broke loose up the midde and had the end zone in his sights when Hall pulled him down from behind with a touchdown-saving tackle.

On the next play, Casteel found Jamal Cooney who had a clear path to the end zone, and Hall tripped him up from behind with another touchdown-saving tackle.

“Coach Castle always tells us never give up, never give up and swarm to the ball,” Hall said. “That’s what we do. We make plays.”

The Raiders’ drive ended with a missed field goal.

Hall and fellow defensive back Teshaun Nixon led Lakeland with six solo tackles.

Lakeland shut out St. Thomas in the first half, gave up two touchdowns in the third quarter, but the defense held strong to let the offense — helped by special teams — pull away.

Look up meaningless touchdown and you’ll see the description of the Raiders’ final score in the closing minutes.

In between, Lakeland made two fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter. The first was on fourth-and-12 after tight end Keon Zipperer, seeing time on defense, came up with a sack.

The Raiders had fourth-and-12 on their next possession, and Latrell Jean and Jaharie Martin combined to stop Casteel, who was scrambling, 5 yards short of the first downs.

“The defense, they’ve been doing it all year long,” Castle said. “I’ve said from the get-go, they’re the strength of our football team, and they showed up big tonight.”

Roy Fuoco can be reached at roy.fuoco@theledger.com or at 863-802-7526.