In addition to its durable two-way players, North Miami Beach’s football team has been known for its aversion to kicking extra points and field goals.
A year after a 0-10 season, the Chargers have changed their attitude toward kicking.
And Thursday night, it paid off when kicker Christian Mercado booted an 18-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Chargers to a postseason-clinching 31-28 victory over rival North Miami at North Miami Stadium.
The field goal set off a wild celebration for NMB (4-4, 2-1) that came even before it knew the full scope of its accomplishment.
Coupled with Krop’s victory over Hialeah on Thursday night, the Chargers clinched the District 13-8A championship — their second in three seasons. Krop (5-3, 2-1) clinched the runner-up spot in the district, eliminating Hialeah (4-4, 1-2) and North Miami (3-5, 1-2), which was denied what would have been its first berth in the playoffs since 1999.
The loss also spoiled a stellar effort by North Miami running back Charles Romane, who finished with an impressive 235 yards on 25 carries and scored all four Pioneer touchdowns.
But his final touchdown tied the score at 28 after the first overtime possession, and NMB’s defense forced its fifth turnover of the game on an interception to stop North Miami on its second overtime possession and set up Mercado’s game-winner.
Mercado’s boot propelled the Chargers back to the playoffs after a one-year absence, and came on a fourth down from the North Miami 1-yard line where NMB coach Jeff Bertani had to choose whether or not to trust his kicker.
During the majority of an 11-year span that included nine playoff appearances, including two regional finals and one state semifinal, NMB would exclusively go for two-point conversions or run standard plays on fourth down.
That changed with Mercado’s addition to the team this season.
“On a kick, wow, who would have thought?” North Miami Beach coach Jeff Bertani said.
“I wanted to go for it on the last play, but the kids wanted to kick it. I listened to my kids.
“[Mercado] tried out before the season and showed he could do the job, and he earned it.”
Steve Ishmael’s performance was more typical of NMB’s brand of football.
Ishmael caught five passes for 63 yards and a 9-yard touchdown on NMB’s first overtime possession.
But Ishmael’s three timely interceptions prevented North Miami from ever taking the lead despite tying the score four times.
While Romane kept answering every NMB score, running back Freddy Leroy countered for the Chargers with 36 carries for 188 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m feeling real good because we knew we had to grind it out and work hard all offseason to get back to this point,” Ishmael said. “The biggest difference is that we don’t worry about individual play. We worry about giving team effort on every play.”
• Killian 51, Palmetto 12: Miguel Andrillon rushed for 111 yards and two scores and Killian (7-1, 3-1) finished its regular-season slate of district opponents in dominant fashion with a blowout of rival Palmetto (4-6, 0-4) at Tropical Park.
Andrillon took an inside handoff from quarterback David Felipe (three completions in four attempts for 75 yards and one touchdown) and ran 63 yards to the end zone on the Cougars’ first play from scrimmage.