LAKELAND, Fla. – When Bradenton St. Stephen’s Episcopal’s Luke Donley got the opportunity to play quarterback again, he didn’t pass up the chance. It was a decision that won him a championship.
A converted wide receiver who spent the two last seasons catching passes instead of throwing them, Donley ended his football career with a bang on Saturday afternoon. He completed 8 of 10 passes for 133 yards and four touchdowns – a personal-best – to lead the Falcons to a runaway 47-7 victory against Ocoee Legacy Charter in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference (SSAC) Class 5A football state championship game at Lakeland High’s Bryant Stadium.
The Falcons scored 47 unanswered points after the score was tied early at 7-7, forcing a running clock midway through the third quarter.
It marked the first time Donley played quarterback since playing the position as an eighth-grader for the school’s middle school team.
Justin Millican had a superb game for St. Stephens, catching six passes for 101 yards and three TDs. The Falcons’ star running back Evan Brown rushed 18 times for 111 yards and one TD, and Nolan Winterhalter kicked a field goal and caught a TD pass.
“It was a fun game,” said St. Stephen’s head coach AJ Brown. “It was my first game as a head coach in a state championship. I’m proud of the way the kids played. They executed very well I thought. We had a good game plan and we got the win.”
It was the third SSAC state title for St. Stephen’s (6-5) but first since 2017 when they repeated as champion from 2016. It was an incredible finish for the Falcons, who won their last five games after a 1-5 start.
“I’m just really proud of my team,” said Donley, a senior who also excels as a centerfielder/pitcher for the school’s baseball team. “We came through. This season, we had a rough start. We really came through at the end of the year.
“I’m just really happy and I’m just proud of my team,” Donley said.
St. Stephen’s and Legacy (6-4) looked like they might produce a shoot-out in the early going as both schools had numerous big plays.
Millican got St. Stephen’s going with a long kickoff return to open the game, setting up his 21-yard TD catch from Donley with 9 minutes, 41 seconds left in the first quarter.
Legacy countered with an impressive nine-play, 79-yard drive that culminated with a nifty slant pass from Liam Lamprect to Jackson Adams for a 36-yard catch-and-run for a TD. That score tied things up at 7-7, but it would be all St. Stephen’s from there.
The Falcons scored on all five of their first-half possessions and added a pick-6 from Michael Konkol and a safety when they blocked a punt that bounced out of the back of the end zone. St. Stephen’s led 40-7 at halftime.
Defensively, the Falcons allowed just 137 total yards and made three interceptions.
“We definitely got off to a slow start,” said Brown, alluding to his defense struggling early on to contain Lamprect and his ability to extend a play with his legs. “With the storm (Hurricane Nicole) that came through, we had a couple days off in practice. I figured we would be a little bit rusty but I knew we could get going if we executed our plays.”
Legacy coach Ryan Locuson said it was just one of those games for his team. “They came out flying,” he said. “They just had a great game.”
Lamprect led Legacy with 114 yards passing. Adams caught three passes for 61 yards.