After rallying from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, Coral Gables looked content with running the remaining 36 seconds off the clock and going to overtime with North Miami Beach.
Junior running back Gregory Howell had other plans. Howell took a handoff inside the right tackle 65 yards for a touchdown, outrunning four Chargers defenders to cap Coral Gables’ 20-point fourth quarter and give the Cavaliers a 20-14 victory in the Region 4-8A quarterfinals Thursday at North Miami Stadium.
The Cavaliers (4-7) will face district rival Columbus (7-4) next Friday in the Region 4-8A semifinals. Coral Gables lost to Columbus 41-0 nearly a month ago.
Howell, who said he battled flulike symptoms during the school day, said when he took the handoff he saw “green.”
“Coach had to give the ball to his money man,” Howell said. “When I got the ball I saw some space, and when I got to the second level, I just turned on the jets. I know I’m big but I have some gas in my tank, I can get away from people.
“All day my head was clogged up, my nose was running, my energy was down,” the 6-1, 215-pound Powell said. “It was like the Michael Jordan game when he played sick against Utah [in game five of the 1997 NBA Finals].”
Coral Gables started the rally with a 17-yard touchdown run by quarterback Dijon Smith. Trailing 14-6 after a missed extra point, the Cavaliers scored again with just under three minutes to play when Smith found Antiwone Johnson 16 yards in the end zone.
Howell caught a short pass from Smith for the two-point conversion to tie the score at 14 with 2:56 left to play.
North Miami Beach, which was making a playoff appearance just a year after going 0-10, built a 14-0 lead that would stand until halfway through the fourth quarter. Running back Freddy Leroy rushed for 98 yards on 18 carries in the first half and put the Chargers (4-6) ahead 14-0 with just 31 seconds left in the first quarter on 3-yard touchdown plunge.
Leroy finished with a game-high 166 yards on 31 carries and Howell finished with 107 yards on 14 carries with the game-winning touchdown.
Coral Gables’ defense stiffened in the second half, holding North Miami Beach to 113 total yards in the second half along with sacking NMB’s sophomore quarterback Cedrick Wiggins three times and forcing a fumble.
Coral Gables coach Roger Pollard said his team was familiar with being down late.
“We faced an eerily similar situation last week,” Powell said, speaking of their regular-season finale game where his team rallied to force overtime before losing to Southwest. “The guys knew that we were OK in the situation because of it. Everyone kept playing and stayed in the game, then Greg Howell made a big play.
“He’s our No. 1 guy, and he came through for us like he has all season,” Pollard said.
Like his Booker T. Washington teammates, linebacker Matthew Thomas is on a mission to win an elusive state title this season.
On Thursday though, Thomas took a moment to celebrate a prestigious honor with his school.
Thomas, rated the No. 8 overall prospect in the nation by ESPN and top outside linebacker, was officially invited to the Under Armour All-America All-Star game. Thomas is one of two Miami-Dade County football stars that have so far been added to the roster for the game that will be played Jan. 4 at Tropicana Field in Tampa.