Down 20-6 at halftime last weekend against Dillard, Cardinal Gibbons went into the locker room confident it would come back to the field and play better.
Chiefs senior quarterback Ryan Giaratano threw a 40-yard strike to junior wide receiver Christian Blake with 14.1 seconds left in the game to help them win 27-26 and remain undefeated (7-0, 2-0 in District 15-5A).
“We’ve been working hard to prepare for moments like that,” junior wide receiver Trevon Lee said. “I can definitely see the maturity we have since most of the team is returning — juniors and sophomores — from last year.”
Said coach Mike Morrill: “They came back with pretty impressive fashion. I think that it says a lot about our team. We expect it would carry over this week.”
Last year, Cardinal Gibbons raced to a 5-0 record before falling to Coral Springs and American Heritage in consecutive weeks.
The season came to an end in the first round of the postseason when Miami Norland, which would go on to win the Class 5A state title, beat the Chiefs 55-0.
“It really did stink losing to Heritage the way we did,” junior defensive end Rocky Miyares said. “We felt like we didn’t play anywhere close to our best game. When we lost to Norland — that just kind of put into perspective how much harder we have to work in order to beat some of the top dogs in the state of Florida.”
Since the summer, the players have worked out and prepared with a chip on their shoulders, hoping to make up for the promise they showed early last season. Most of those guys are now upperclassmen. Ten of 11 starters on offense are juniors.
The quarterback tandem of junior Peyton Bender and Giaratano has accumulated more than 1,700 yards passing and 21 touchdowns. Lee has amassed 554 yards on 23 catches with 10 touchdowns as the top wideout.
“It’s worked out beautifully, mostly because they’re two outstanding individuals who are respectful of each other and help each other out,” Morrill said. “They’ve gotten about equal reps. We alternate, and the offense doesn’t seem to miss a beat.”
So much so that Cardinal Gibbons has outscored opponents 268-118 this season.
Looking for its first district title since 1995, according to Miyares, the Chiefs must beat host American Heritage (6-1, 2-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Miyares said the defense will try and slow down Heritage junior running back Sony Michel, who has 820 yards with 13 touchdowns.
“We have to try and contain Sony,” Miyares said. “He’s a great back. We’ve just got to do everything we can to contain them and try to make them one-dimensional, which is another hard thing because they have a really good quarterback.”
If they can, the Chiefs would be setting themselves up with a better shot at making it past the first round of the postseason for the first time since 2006.
“It’s a really big game,” Lee said. “Everybody’s excited for the game. We really want to get this win to show everybody our school is serious in making a long playoff run this year. We really want revenge.”