When senior captain Mike Cibene and the rest of the Pine Crest players arrived for the first day of camp on Aug. 6, their one goal was to win a championship.
A few weeks later, 14 South Florida programs from Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties were set to begin competition in the newly created Southeastern Football Conference (SFC) rather than in districts or as independents.
Heading into the 10th and final week of the season, the Panthers will face Palm Beach County’s Benjamin School in the conference’s inaugural championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday at FAU Stadium.
Coach Jim Pletcher plans to bring the team to the venue about 15 minutes earlier than usual so the players can walk around and get acclimated with their surroundings. He has been emphasizing that it’s the “same-sized field we’ve been playing on all year.”
But this time, the student television station will stream the game. The conference has asked the other schools to come and show support. Both Pine Crest and Benjamin have been selling tickets in advance.
“It’s been high excitement and we’re going to get there a bit earlier so they can get in the stadium and get rid of the wow factor,” Pletcher said. “Some of these kids — 16 seniors — for some of them it will be the last football game they’ll ever play in their lives. They’re real jacked up about it and looking forward to the opportunity.”
The Panthers (9-1) welcomed eight new players on offense and another six on defense this year. During the first series of their fourth game, they lost senior quarterback and captain Daniel Arkin to an injury.
In his place, sophomore Zach Smith has stepped up, going 43 of 94 for 695 yards, with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Junior running back Trevor Osceola made all-conference with 626 yards and 12 touchdowns. Senior captain Kyle Diener added 367 yards and four touchdowns.
“I’m excited because it’s a championship game,” Diener said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun because it’s the first championship game any of us has ever played in. I’m trying to play somewhere in college, so hopefully it’s not my last game, but it could be, so I’m going to treat it like that. I’m excited and ready to go.”
Benjamin will be a familiar foe for Pine Crest. The Buccaneers (9-1) handed the Panthers their only loss of the season, 41-26, on Oct. 12. In that game, Pletcher said the team learned that it “can’t play with turnovers, penalties and make mistakes against a real good football team.”
Pine Crest has won its three games since then, including postseason matchups against Florida Christian and Pope John Paul II.
“As we started winning games, we were step-by-step closer to our goal, and we only have one more left,” said Cibene, who is a defensive end and offensive lineman. “At first we were down [when we lost to Benjamin], but we came together and said we’re not done yet and we could very well see them in the first or second round, maybe even the championship game. I’m extremely excited to play them again.”
The early national signing period for several sports including baseball and basketball began Wednesday, with several Broward County schools’ top athletes inking letters of intent.
• Sagemont had three of its top athletes, including two of its boys’ basketball stars, sign Wednesday. Egor Koulechov signed with Arizona State and Vieux Kande signed with South Alabama. State tennis champion Jacob Albo signed with Florida State.
• West Broward had three of its top baseball players sign. Outfielder Daniel Pardo signed with Campbell, pitcher Matt Hardy signed with Nova Southeastern and catcher Daniel Vasquez signed with Siena College.
• St. Thomas Aquinas had five athletes sign. Boys’ basketball standout Steven Haney signed with UCF and softball star Samantha Sharkey signed with Canisius. Baseball standout Alec Byrd signed with FSU. Volleyball standouts Brooke Lyons (Appalachian State) and Bridget Villano (Tennessee), who were both playing in the Class 7A state finals Wednesday signed as well.
• Archbishop McCarthy also had four athletes sign. Girls’ basketball star Kayhla Livingston signed with Cleveland State University and softball standout Stephanie Chasier signed with St. Joseph’s University. Boys’ lacrosse standout Kori Beck signed with the University of Tampa. Baseball starting catcher Michael Hernandez has committed to Nova Southeastern University.
• Cardinal Gibbons boys’ golfer Sean Smothers signed with Mercer University.
• TERRA 4, Mourning 0: Bianca Combe, Betsie Zambrana, Rachel Hairston and Vivian Calderon had one goal each. TERRA 4-3.
• Pine Charter 8, Stranahan 0: Kayla Faulkner 3 goals, assist. Maya Goodman 2 goals. PPC 7-0.
• Cardinal Gibbons 3, Pompano 1: Abby Perry, Baylee Kennedy, Mackenzie Crittenberger had one goal each. CG 3-0-2.
• Chaminade 1, University 0: Dillon Villella assisted a goal made by Jackie Koebel. Chaminade won 1-0. Savannah Santos was in goal with a shutout.
• Pine Crest 6, Calvary Christian 0: Julia Moore and Catherine Gulley had two goals each. PC 3-2-2.
• Archbishop McCarthy 7, Pompano Beach 0: Yari Bradfield 2 goals. Madison St. Philip goal. Amanda Perez goal. Sara Bowden shutout. AM 4-2.
• Late Tuesday – St. Thomas 11, Northeast 0: STA 4-0.
• Monarch 3, North Broward Prep 2: Maetheus Silva goal, assist. Gabe Menescao goal. Arthur Cardosa goal. Mon 3-0-1.
• Cardinal Gibbons 67 , Western 38 - CG (1-0): Williams 28, Cohen 15, Lanzon 9, Ozaltin 6, Jones 6, Pollock 3. WES (1-1): Torres 3, Pakrey 7, Freay-Walters 5, Biondo 10, McDohough 14. Halftime: CG 35-14. Rebounds: Cohen 8, Williams 8. Assists: Williams 6. Steals: Jones 7.
• Preseason – Palmer Trinity 57, Pine Crest 37: PT: Dorsy 23. PC: Fernandez 17, Denis 14.
Region 4-7A quarterfinal at Traz: Plantation vs. Hialeah American, 7:30
Monarch at Flanagan, 6:30
Class 2A state semifinal at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee: Sheridan Hills Christian vs. Winter Garden Foundation Academy, 6
Coral Springs at Coconut Creek, 6
St. Thomas Aquinas at Everglades, 6
Mourning at Hallandale, 6
Pompano Beach at Northeast, 6
Hollywood Hills at Piper, 6
Pines Charter at South Plantation, 6