TALLAHASSEE – As head coach Dameon Jones and his Chaminade-Madonna Lions took a 16-0 halftime advantage on Wednesday night, he knew that the three-time defending state champions would need to stay sharp for the final 24 minutes.
What happened in the 3A state title game at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium is the Jacksonville Trinity Christian Conquerors never gave up – and kept coming until the end – and that end was a 25-22 win over the Lions.
In a year where so much has transpired, you figured that a two-plus touchdown lead would NOT be enough on this night.
On their fifth consecutive trip to the state title game, Chaminade-Madonna let one get away – as a number of seniors leave on a tremendous run of three state championships and plenty of recognition.
This program, which relied on its defense much of the year, failed to hold the 12-1 Conquerors out of the endzone late in the game – and finish the year 8-2 – with plenty coming back for the 2021 season and another run at the state title game.
The Lions took a quick 2-0 lead when the Conquerors snapped the ball over the punter’s head at the 8:40 mark of the first quarter.
When University of Miami signee Thad Franklin took it in from the 2 with 2:35 left in the opening quarter, Chaminade-Madonna took a 9-0 lead.
Early defensive standouts for the Lions included Jordan Lynch, Kalunj Matthews, Dylan Reid and Curtis Janvier.
When Reid stripped the ball and took it in from 51 yards out the Lions had switched momentum with 1:49 left in the first half and a 16-0 lead.
Trinity Christian finally got on the scoreboard with 8:43 left in the third quarter when Kaleb Killian took it in from the 2 – as the Conquerors came out and made it 16-7 on the very first drive of the second half.
As the final quarter started, Trinity Christian inched closer when they drove inside the Lions’ five and came away with a 19-yard field to cut the lead to 16-10 with 10:33 left on field goal by Caleb Stevenson.
When Ja’Cory Jordan found University of Florida-bound Marcus Burke, the Conquerors had the Lions’ attention. They led for the first time, 17-16.
TALLAHASSEE – This has been one of those years that Champagnat Catholic head football coach Hector Clavijo will long remember.
On Wednesday afternoon at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium, all the emotions of this past year had Clavijo and his team once again standing on the podium after a 41-27 win over Jacksonville University Christian, the 11-2 Lions won for the second straight year and third in the past fifth.
There are very few football programs who have enjoyed the success that Hialeah Champagnat Catholic and Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna have.
When both “Lions” take the field, they will be going where very few have been that talented and fortunate to travel.
It has been something that Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach high school football teams, coaches and fans have talked about this past month.
The inaugural Tri-County Football Championship Series, which gave those teams, who didn’t opt into the state series, to play football, get some additional film and crown six champions.
What was thought of as something to help the athletes get extra college looks really more than served its purpose this Covid and pandemic season.
Teams who had never faced off against one another had the opportunity to extend their season and get some competition during a year where nobody thought it would be possible.
What the Tri-County event did was make the football season very interesting for those who were not included in the state series this weekend.
CAN THE TRI-COUNTY CONCEPT CONTINUE?
Through this pandemic there were so many things learned and accepted. One of those things was this first year playoff that included 48 schools.
If this is going to continue, we know that it’s not for the programs who make the playoffs each year, but for those who don’t – or compete in an independent league throughout the season – this Tri-County event is the perfect thing.
“What they can do is still have everyone play in their districts and in their leagues,” said Bill Daley, who served as Co-Chair of the event. “When the state series begins, so can the Tri-County teams. It’s sort of like the NIT in basketball. As these programs get better and make the state series playoffs, the use the Tri-County Championships for exposure and to get their programs better.”
With all games being played at Traz Powell Stadium on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, here is a look at the championship matchups:
6A-1A Gold – No. 4 North Miami Beach at No. 2 Fort Lauderdale Dillard, Thursday, 7:30. The surprising Chargers knocked off top seed Miami Killian and head coach Jeff Bertani and his team will now play first year head coach Tyler Tate and his gifted Panthers. Should be a classic.
6A-1A Silver – Miami Norland at Coconut Creek, Friday, 3:30 p.m.
7A Gold - No. 2 Plantation at No. 1 Delray, Friday, 7:30. This is matchup that everyone wanted to see in the finals. Two impressive programs that have talent, are well coached and could have easily made a dent in the state series like they do each and every season.
7A Silver – Fort Lauderdale at South Broward, Saturday, 11 a.m.
8A Gold – No. 3 Deerfield Beach at No. 1 Miami Christopher Columbus, Saturday, 7 p.m. This has the making of being one of the best games this season – at any level. Many felt that this would be the final – giving the 8A State Championship showdown between Kissimmee Osceola and Sanford Seminole a run for their money.
Keep in mind that head coach Dave Dunn and his Explorers are the defending state champions.
8A Silver – Boca Raton at Palm Beach Gardens, 3 p.m.
Roland Smith had a belief that no matter when the season began, his Miami Central Rockets would be right in the middle of the race for state. He was right.
What the defending 6A state champions have built is a program. One that has lasted over a decade – and the expectations and results have followed.
When this season was totally messed up by the high Covid number throughout Florida, it was south Florida that was left with a decision. One that only five public school programs answered.
With Homestead, Miami Northwestern, Miami Edison and Miami Palmetto all eliminated, the Rockets stand alone.
Now, three-time defending 3A state champion Chaminade-Madonna, defending 2A state champ Hialeah Champagnat Catholic, Cardinal Gibbons (4A), Plantation American Heritage (5A), the Rockets (6A) and St. Thomas Aquinas (7A) remain to carry the flag for the region.
While this season had plenty of promise from the beginning – even a 21-14 loss to Miami Northwestern wasn’t about to rattle the Rockets. But things surely got strange.
After that October 23rd opener, the Rockets played a half with Miami Edison, winning 14-0 the following week. The “play-in” game for the state championships against Immokalee on November 6th was canceled. So was the following “playoff” game with Archbishop McCarthy on November 13th.
On Saturday, November 21st – nearly a month after they played a half against the Red Raiders, Central beat Naples Lely, 42-16. They came back the following week after being down by two scores to beat Naples, 31-21, shutout Fort Myers Dunbar, 40-0, and this past week ran past Palmetto (Bradenton), 47-20.
Miami Central (7-1) will now head to Tallahassee on Friday, Dec. 18 for a 1 p.m. game with first time state championship foe Lake Minneola (11-1).
SOUTH FLORIDA WELL REPRESENTED
In addition to Miami Central, Tallahassee will be well represented by south Florida programs:
Wednesday, Dec. 16, 1 p.m.
Jacksonville University Christian (8-4) vs. Hialeah Champagnat Catholic (10-2). Head Coach Hector Clavijo and the defending state champion Lions have been playing at a high level since the start of the season.
The Christians won this game two years ago – and are loaded with talent as well. Should be a very entertaining game as both teams are tested.
Wednesday, Dec. 16, 7 p.m.
Jacksonville Trinity Christian (11-1) vs. Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna (8-1). The last time the Lions lost in the state finals was to this impressive program from Jacksonville.
While head coach Dameon Jones and his team is young, they are gifted with a number of this group of players already winning state titles.
Another big-time matchup that makes Wednesday a very special opening day.
Thursday, Dec. 17, 1 p.m.
Jacksonville Bolles (10-2) vs. Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons (7-1). Another matchup between two stellar football programs.
While the Bulldogs lost in this game last year to Miami Booker T. Washington, head coach Matt Dubuc and the Chiefs missed out on the state title game in 2019 – after winning it all, at 5A, in 2018.
The Chiefs are playing as well as anyone in the state right now.
Friday, Dec. 18, 7 p.m.
Tallahassee Rickards (10-1) vs. Plantation American Heritage (10-2). The return of head coach Pat Surtain and the Patriots to the state title game came with some drama in the state semifinals, but defense has carried this program all season – and don’t look for that to stop against the “home” team Rickards Raiders.
The Patriots are starting to pick up some steam on offense as well.
Saturday, Dec. 19, 7 p.m.
Orlando Edgewater (8-2) vs. Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (7-1). Rematch from last year’s title game has head coach Roger Harriott and the Raiders in a familiar position – trying to finish off a crazy season.
The Raiders have more than taken care of business in the playoffs – with a solid defensive effort and timely offense.
The Eagles went all the way to Niceville and pulled off an amazing win on a field goal that bounced the right way.
STATE CHAMPIONS! WHAT A SEASON FOR TRU PREP
What looked like no season for University School’s football program back in August certainly ended on a positive note on Saturday in Lakeland.
Playing as the TRU Prep Saints all season, head coach Mario Smith guided this program through some crazy, but yet amazing times.
The season came to an end at Bryant Field in Lakeland as the Saints (7-2) claimed the SSIA (Sunshine State Independent Association) Football State Championship with a 22-12 win over American Collegiate Academy.