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Local schools win state football championships

Columbus claims its first, St. Thomas Aquinas its 11th, Chaminade-Madonna 'three-peats' and St. Brendan High wins Independent title

MIAMI | South Florida schools dominated the FHSAA state football playoffs, sweeping seven of the eight state championships. Archdiocesan schools played their part, winning three of the finals, two in dramatic fashion.

Christopher Columbus joined the ranks of the champions for the first time, beating Apopka 21-20 in the Class 8A final with a two-point conversion with 8 seconds left. St. Thomas Aquinas rallied to grab a state-record-tying 11th state title, beating Orlando Edgewater 28-23. Chaminade-Madonna began the archdiocese’s title parade with a 35-20 victory over Tallahassee Florida High.

St. Brendan also found success, finishing 10-1 in its second season and winning the Florida Independent Football Conference championship.

 

COLUMBUS WINS ITS FIRST

Columbus players Trynyty Conway and Jahvar McSween celebrate Christopher Columbus Catholic's 21-20 victory over Apopka in the Class 8A state football championship game at Daytona Stadium. The Explorers won their first state title after going 0-5 in previous finals.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

Columbus players Trynyty Conway and Jahvar McSween celebrate Christopher Columbus Catholic's 21-20 victory over Apopka in the Class 8A state football championship game at Daytona Stadium. The Explorers won their first state title after going 0-5 in previous finals.

In Daytona Beach, Brandon McDuffey completed 34 of 47 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns in the championship game Dec. 13. McDuffey’s two touchdown passes went to running back Henry Parrish, whom Apopka refused to let run. Parrish had entered the game with 2,319 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns. But the Blue Darters held him to 24 rushing yards. Receiver Xzavier Henderson, who caught eight passes for 105 yards, ran in the Explorers’ first touchdown on a 2-point conversion.

Yet Apopka jumped to a 20-7 lead. But Columbus withstood several attempts for Apopka to clinch a victory.

Getting the ball with 4:35 left, Columbus went into a 2-minute offense, getting passes to the sideline and hustling to the line of scrimmage. A Parrish 11-yard rush gave the Explorers a first down to the Apopka 15. After two incompletions and a no-yard completion, McDuffey recovered a fumble, then rolled right and found Parrish running backward. Parrish caught the ball and fell into the end zone for a touchdown with 3:21 left. After Apopka’s Anthony Fieldings blocked the extra point, the Explorers trailed 20-13, needing a stop to get a chance to either tie or win.

An Apopka personal-foul penalty on its first play of the next drive set up a Columbus stop. Senior linebacker Dustin Vinas stopped Jackson for a 1-yard gain on third and 17 to force a Blue Darters punt, and the Explorers got the ball with 1:57 left and 72 yards between them and a potential tie or victory.

“We did a really good job with the film,” Vinas said. “We just kept watching our keys, and our keys were taking us to the play every single time. We had to do some shifts in the fourth quarter. They were beating us outside, so we had to shift over and make that adjustment.”

McDuffey hit Henderson for 22 yards on a third-and-10 pass to the 50. After a few short passes, McDuffey found Henderson for a 26-yard pass to the Apopka 6, with Henderson leaping over two Apopka defenders to win the catch. “I saw the ball in the air, and I knew I had to get it,” Henderson said.

The Blue Darters called timeout with 18 seconds left to regroup. After an incompletion, McDuffey hit Parrish in the right flat, and Parrish outraced Fieldings for a touchdown with 8.1 seconds left. The play worked so well, McDuffey hit Jahvar McSween on the same play, and McSween brought home the title. McDuffey said the Explorers had practiced that play all week, and he saw a defensive back move in to cover the run, which opened up McSween.

“I saw victory,” McSween said of what he saw on the play. “Last year, they took two points away from us. This year, we had to get it back.”

 

AQUINAS RETURNS TO TITLETOWN

St. Thomas Aquinas offensive lineman Julian Armella flexes while celebrating his team's 28-23 victory over Orlando Edgewater on Dec. 14, 2019, in the Class 7A FHSAA state football championships at Daytona Stadium in Daytona Beach. The Raiders won their state-record-tying 11th state championship.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

St. Thomas Aquinas offensive lineman Julian Armella flexes while celebrating his team's 28-23 victory over Orlando Edgewater on Dec. 14, 2019, in the Class 7A FHSAA state football championships at Daytona Stadium in Daytona Beach. The Raiders won their state-record-tying 11th state championship.

Also in Daytona Beach, sophomore Zion Turner ran for two 13-yard touchdowns and threw a touchdown pass to Marcus Rosemy, who in turn picked off a pass in the end zone on Edgewater’s final play to clinch St. Thomas Aquinas’ 28-23 victory over Orlando Edgewater. The victory tied the Raiders with Jacksonville Bolles for the state lead with 11 state titles.

Turner helped deliver the state championship by carrying the offense. He ran 11 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw for 112 yards on 13-of-20 passing and one touchdown, finishing the season with 1,635 yards passing and 23 touchdowns. Anthony Hankerson added 190 yards rushing to finish with 1,080 yards on the season.

“We made the adjustment. We had to keep telling ourselves that we had to keep pounding the ball,” Turner said. “The run game complemented the pass game, which was two of the things people said we can’t do, and just do what we do best.”

Christian Leary put Edgewater up 14-0 with 54- and 75-yard touchdown runs. Anthony Hankerson jolted the Raiders out of their doldrums with his longest run of the season – a 63-yarder that cut the Eagles’ lead to 14-7 with 3:41 left in the first half.

The game turned on the first three Edgewater series of the second half. Derek Wingo sacked Edgewater quarterback Canaan Mobley to force a punt on Edgewater’s opening drive. Then Blaine Anderson followed a Raiders three-and-out with an interception that set up Turner’s first touchdown run. That 13-yard scoring run tied the score 14-14.

The next Raiders score was set up by a busted Edgewater trick play. After Turner’s first touchdown, the Eagles tried a reverse on the kickoff return, but Keion Smith and Rohan Brown sniffed out the return and pinned Edgewater on its 9-yard line.

Wingo and senior defensive lineman Kiyah Wilmot hurried Mobley into a third-down incompletion on the next drive, and the Raiders started the series at the Edgewater 42. Turner’s second 13-yard touchdown gave the Raiders a 21-14 lead. Edgewater managed only a 25-yard Joey Ruggiero field goal to cut the Raiders lead to 21-17 with 9:22 left in the game.

Turner then mixed up the offense for an insurance touchdown. Turner hit Rosemy and Jahvante Royal for several first downs until Turner found Rosemy for an 11-yard touchdown to put the Raiders up 28-17.

“Once the offense gets rolling, there’s no stopping us,” Turner said. “We just complement each other and keep moving.”

Mobley’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Tommi Hill brought the Eagles within 28-23 with 4:18 left, but the Eagles botched another trick play when the Raiders stopped kicker Ruggiero’s 2-point rush attempt. That forced the Eagles to drive for a touchdown instead of a field goal.

Punter Noah Botsford boomed a 55-yard punt on the next series, forcing Edgewater to go 84 yards for a potential go-ahead score. But the Eagles had 2:05 left. A personal-foul penalty and Hill’s 29-yard grab put the Eagles at St. Thomas Aquinas’ 23 with 4 seconds left. Then Rosemy, who hadn’t played defense since middle school, entered as a safety, and raced halfway across the field to pick off Mobley’s final pass and trigger a huge celebration.

“We knew they were going to take a shot into the end zone,” said Rosemy, a University of Georgia commitment. “My coach trusted me to go into the game, and I just had to react and make a play.”

 

CHAMINADE-MADONNA THREE-PEAT

Chaminade-Madonna running back Thaddius Franklin (1) pulls for extra yards on the 10-yard run that clinched the state-finals record for rushing yards in Chaminade-Madonna's 35-20 victory over Tallahassee Florida High Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, in the 2019 FHSAA 3A state football championship game at Gene Cox Stadium in Tallahassee. Franklin ran for a state-finals-record 333 yards on 47 carries with five touchdowns as the Lions won their third consecutive state title and fifth overall.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

Chaminade-Madonna running back Thaddius Franklin (1) pulls for extra yards on the 10-yard run that clinched the state-finals record for rushing yards in Chaminade-Madonna's 35-20 victory over Tallahassee Florida High Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, in the 2019 FHSAA 3A state football championship game at Gene Cox Stadium in Tallahassee. Franklin ran for a state-finals-record 333 yards on 47 carries with five touchdowns as the Lions won their third consecutive state title and fifth overall.

When Thaddius Franklin carried Chaminade-Madonna to last year’s Class 3A state football final game, a broken left collarbone sidelined him. This year, few could stop him.

In Tallahassee, the junior running back made his impact felt in a huge way Dec. 6, running for a state-finals-record 333 yards on 47 carries and five touchdowns to help the Lions beat Tallahassee Florida High 35-20 in this year’s Class 3A football final at Gene Cox Stadium. The victory gave the Lions their third consecutive state title and fifth overall.

“(Franklin) said, ‘Coach, I’m going to run my heart out for this one,’” Chaminade-Madonna coach Dameon Jones said. “He carried us all year, and it was no different from this game. Our offensive line showed their hearts for him, and he was able to grab the record.”

Franklin finished his junior season with 2,282 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. He now has 4,379 career yards. He broke the state record of 328 yards set in 1996 by Frostproof’s Travis Henry. However, his record lasted one day, as Blountstown’s Treven Smith ran for 365 yards the next day in a 70-35 loss to Madison County.

The Lions faced a Florida High team playing a de-facto home game four miles from its campus. Even though Chaminade-Madonna was the official home team, organizers put the Seminoles on the home sideline, correctly anticipating a much larger crowd. Florida High fans packed their side. Despite a 468-mile, nearly 7-hour trip, Chaminade-Madonna fans packed their side.

Franklin took the crowd out of the game early by scoring on the Lions’ first two drives on 4-yard and 3-yard runs. Franklin’s 1-yard run put the Lions up 21-7 at the half, and his 14-yard touchdown put Chaminade-Madonna up 28-7 through three quarters.

The Seminoles, however, awakened their home crowd early in the fourth quarter when Willie Taggart Jr found receiver George Henderson on an out route for a 14-yard touchdown, cutting the Lions’ lead to 28-14.

A short Lions punt gave the Seminoles possession at the Chaminade-Madonna 36. A pass-interference penalty erased a Lions third-down stop, and Emory Layerd ran to the Lions 3, eventually setting up Alfred Menjor’s 1-yard run. However, the extra-point kick bounced off the left upright, leaving the Lions with a tenuous 28-20 lead with 8:31 left.

Franklin erased all worry on the next drive. After quarterback Brady Kelly started the next drive with a 13-yard completion to Josh Jenkins, the Lions turned to Franklin. He delivered, running the next seven plays to steal time away from a potential Florida High comeback. When he capped that drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, he sapped most of Florida High’s hopes of a miracle comeback. Two plays later, Charles Williams intercepted Taggart for the second time to steal the last vestiges of hope.

 

ST. BRENDAN ‘MAKING NOISE’

St. Brendan High's Sabres, playing as an FHSAA independent and member of the Florida Independent Football Conference, improved exponentially over a 3-5 finish in 2018. They won the Florida Independent Football Conference championship, beating the Westminster Christian Warriors 26-0.

Photographer: Via Facebook @stbrendanhigh

St. Brendan High's Sabres, playing as an FHSAA independent and member of the Florida Independent Football Conference, improved exponentially over a 3-5 finish in 2018. They won the Florida Independent Football Conference championship, beating the Westminster Christian Warriors 26-0.

Team MVP Ryan Bullard led the St. Brendan Sabres to a 10-1 finish in their second year of existence. The Sabres, playing as an FHSAA independent and member of the Florida Independent Football Conference, improved exponentially over a 3-5 finish in 2018.

St. Brendan coach Luis Rodriguez said his primary goal was to improve. In particular, he wanted his Sabres to beat every team that beat them last year.

“Last year was a lot harder, because we had kids who hadn’t played football before,” Rodriguez said. “We had younger kids this year, but they had prior experience. The key was good kids and the coaches, really, and the hard work that you put into it.”

Bullard, a freshman and first-team all-conference selection, ran for 1,310 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also added 40 tackles on defense.

The Sabres won the Florida Independent Football Conference championship, beating the Westminster Christian Warriors 26-0.

Christian Lowry put the Sabres up 6-0 by catching a post-route pass from quarterback Bryan Jacobson and racing for the 63-yard touchdown with 9:11 left in the first quarter. Freshman Michael Caldwell turned the game around, blocking a Westminster field-goal attempt and returning it 92 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Bryan Jacobson and Lowry connected on the two-point conversion to put the Sabres up 14-0 at the half.

“They had the ball most of the first half,” Rodriguez said. “That blocked field-goal attempt was the turning point.”

Halfback Andrevis Grant added a 7-yard touchdown run in the third quarter for St. Brendan. Cornerback Jose Maqurin finished the scoring with a 52-yard interception return, capping the Sabres’ first championship.

Among the outstanding players this year was Richard Dandridge, a first-team all-conference receiver, who had 800 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. Caldwell finished the season with 900 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. Lowry had 61 tackles and three interceptions. Nicholas Urbina had 58 tackles, including 10 sacks, and four forced fumbles. Grant, a first-team all-conference selection, stood out on defense as well, getting 38 tackles, including 5.5 sacks. He also ran for 300 yards and six touchdowns.

Rodriguez said two assistant-coaching hires helped spur the team. He brought on Paul Bronis from South Dade to take over his offensive-coordinator duties. Rodriguez said he could learn from the 67-year-old Bronis, who has 40 years in the business.

He also lauded offensive-line coach Christopher Reed. He said Reid helped develop sophomore guard Matthew Barraza into a top lineman. Reid also turned senior lineman Ryan Arango into a first-team all-conference player and the team’s best offensive lineman. Rodriguez said that freshman lineman Shelton Green showed signs of being a special player.

The Sabres intentionally started off in the FIFC to build the program while awaiting the ability to enter FHSAA as a playoff-eligible member. That should come after the 2020 season. In that time, he’s taking his players to as many camps and clinics as he can get them to. After all, he wants his team to improve.

“The kids believe,” Rodriguez said. “They know what I’m trying to establish. As long as they stay together, it’ll be hard to compete with us as juniors.”

“We’re a small school,” he added. “People don’t know who St. Brendan is. I think we’re making noise. By the time these guys are juniors, people should know the school.”

 

NO GIBBONS REPEAT

Cardinal Gibbons missed a chance to repeat its Class 4A title, falling to eventual champion Miami Booker T. Washington 31-21. The Chiefs entered the playoffs with the Region 4’s third seed, then beat Msgr. Pace 56-26 in the first round and University School 35-17 to reach the region final.

 

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