After a 47-6 win over Barrington Christian, Dade Christian now stands 6-0 and ranked No. 2 in Class 2A in the Associated Press Florida high school football poll.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The Crusaders now have won at least eight games every year since 2006 and have reached the playoffs five of the past six seasons.
The team’s 2012 campaign has been highlighted by a 3-0 win over perennial Class 4A contender Gulliver and a 14-13 victory over Reagan — which was previously on a 10-game winning streak dating back to last year — with six players out and the Crusaders down to their fourth quarterback.
Coach Mike Sonneborn admits the wins haven’t come easy.
With Bilal Marshall, a dual-threat quarterback with a three-star rating by Rivals and ESPN, graduating and departing for Purdue, the Dade Christian offense has had to adjust to fill the void. Add to that the fact that the small school, already naturally low on numbers, has been plagued with injuries, and it’s been quite the challenge.
“This year’s been really tough with injuries,” Sonneborn says. “We’ve already lost three players for the season, and guys are two-way players for us, so when you lose three, you lose six.”
To his team’s credit, Sonneborn says it’s done an excellent job of battling in the second half of games, the reps most taxing on players who have had to play multiple positions.
“Despite our limited roster with all the injuries, in the fourth quarter we’ve been able to keep guys off the board and/or pull away,” he said.
With Marshall no longer around, Sonneborn has looked to Gary Sampson to handle quarterbacking duties, but even he went down earlier this year with a high ankle sprain that has caused him to miss four of the past five games.
The team tried to rush him back for the Sept. 28 game against Westland, but he re-aggravated his injury and will be out at least another week.
Despite missing time, Sampson, who is committed to Liberty, is still the team’s leading passer and rusher. He is averaging 9.5 yards per carry in the spread offense.
Terrance Alls, a senior committed to Duke, has made sure to contribute regardless of who is at quarterback, and he’s done it playing three positions — wide receiver, running back and return man.
“When at running back, I know I just have to do my assignment and hit the hole hard, just find a way to make space,” Alls says. “At receiver, I just have to run a good route at a good depth and the quarterback will find me.”
While the Crusaders won with a high-powered offense with Marshall running the show the past few years, the heart and soul of this year’s team is the defense.
The team is plus-12 in turnover ratio. Sophomore linebacker Mike Perera leads the team with 44 tackles and senior Aaron Batten, who has narrowed his college choices down to Minnesota and Kentucky, has 33 tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery on the year.
Sonneborn attributes the consistent success of the program to the continuity on his coaching staff. Since he took over in 2004, he has had the same defensive coordinator, offensive line coach, defensive line coach and defensive backs coach.
“We have very low turnover on our coaching staff,” Sonneborn said. “We don’t have a revolving door of coaches. Our guys stay here. We don’t change our system. We don’t run a new offense every year. We don’t run a new defense every year.
“So guys get a chance to learn and be good in a system”
With wins against Champagnat and Barrington Christian, Dade Christian leads District 8-2A with a 2-0 district record. On Friday the team faces Kings Academy before its final district battle against South Florida HEAT.