A playmaking running back powered the Miami Norland football team’s offense during a playoff victory.
It obviously wasn’t former Vikings superstar Duke Johnson.
He makes his notable contributions at the University of Miami these days.
The role of “workhorse” Friday night belonged to Norland junior running back LaKeith Stafford, who gave the Vikings exactly what they needed to keep their season going with a 31-21 comeback win over Fort Lauderdale Dillard at North Miami Stadium.
Stafford ran for 147 yards on 20 carries and scored two touchdowns as Norland (9-2) scored 17 fourth-quarter points to win the Region 4-5A quarterfinal matchup.
The Vikings will square off next week with District 16-5A rival Miami Jackson, which upset Plantation American Heritage on Friday night.
“The past two weeks we’ve started to get our rhythm back,” Norland coach Daryle Heidelburg said. “Everybody knows we don’t have Duke or some of the players we had last year. But we have about six guys that all do something different, and [Stafford] has been with us for three years now and he knows our system so well.”
Dillard (5-6) led throughout the first three quarters in what was its first playoff appearance since 2008 thanks largely to its own star running back, Dre’Sean Nelson.
The talented senior ran for 106 yards on 18 carries and scored twice in the first quarter as the Panthers found open holes consistently in Norland’s defense.
But the Vikings turned things around when it counted, shutting out Dillard in the second half.
Dillard quarterback Lee Martin connected with Dennis Turner late in the second quarter to give the Panthers a 21-14 lead. Dillard regained possession late in the half with a chance to go up by two scores.
But Norland’s Paul James came up with a key sack that resulted in Dillard running out of time.
Raymond Attley also came up with a key interception that helped keep Norland in position for the comeback. Rick Foster sealed the game late with another interception.
“We had a great effort, but we just couldn’t get it done,” first-year Dillard coach Lorenzo Davis said. “I’m very proud of the way these guys fought all season. It’s all about growing up for these guys. We did a lot of that this year.”
Norland also found its rhythm at key times from its passing game as quarterback Taron James went 10 of 15 for 167 yards, threw a touchdown pass and ran for another.
“At the beginning of the game, we were running ourselves out of plays and their kid [Nelson] was great for them,” Heidelburg said. “We just tried to play base plays in the second half and let our speed take over.”
James’ 33-yard touchdown pass to Zaquan Tyson early in the second quarter tied the game at 14.
Stafford carried Norland to the tying score early in the fourth quarter.
His run up the middle from 5 yards out on fourth-and-4 tied the game with 10:51 left.
Norland took the lead for good with 6:57 left when Taron James scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper.
• Booker T. Washington 71, North Broward Prep 0: The Tornadoes steamrolled the Eagles at Curtis Park.
On their second play of the game, Nicholas Norris caught a pass from Treon Harris to start the scoring for what would turn out to be a crushing victory.
The Eagles never did give up their gusto and at one point in the second quarter forced a turnover on downs in the red zone.
But their offense was predictable and their quarterback had only one completion out of 19 tries.
Mark Walton was impressive throughout the game. The freshman started at both running back and kicker for the Tornadoes and twice found himself kicking his own extra point immediately after a scoring drive.
Harris finished with 188 passing yards, two touchdown passes and was 7-of-13 passing.