Though Friday night’s Class 3A regional final between University School and Delray American Heritage at Nova High School will be a rematch, Suns players and coaches insist their team is different from the one that fell in the previous contest.
It starts with a stifling defense that found its groove during a 49-3 victory over Cocoa in the fourth game of the season, according to senior linebacker Cody Schooly.
“We come into the game looking for a goose egg,” Schooly said. “Anything short of that and we feel disappointed. We come in there with the mentality, that we’re going to shut them down.”
University last allowed a touchdown on Oct. 4 to Chaminade-Madonna, a span of five games. During the past three weeks, the Suns have shut out their opponents.
In the 27-0 win over Cardinal Newman in the regional semifinal, University intercepted quarterback George Mastics twice and also recovered a fumble.
Senior linebacker Aubrey Duty-Tyson said the unit follows a points system that rewards everything from tackles to turnovers, positively enforcing solid play.
“The offense was carrying the team [last year], and the defense was just hanging in there,” senior offensive lineman Jordan Budwig said. “Our defense has stepped up to another level. I think we’re a lot more of a complete team, and we understand what it takes to win.”
Another difference from last season lies in arguably the most important position on either side of the ball — the Suns welcomed a new quarterback, but one who has been around the program since sixth grade.
Senior Mike White, an All-Broward pitcher for the school’s baseball team, has completed 117 of 171 passes for 1,474 yards with 18 touchdowns and two interceptions. Before the season began, he and his quarterback coach focused on two statistics: completion and interception rate.
With muddy field conditions and heavy rain falling during most of the regional semifinal against Cardinal Newman, University turned to sophomore Jordan Scarlett and junior Lajuan Hunt. They combined for 306 rushing yards to power the offense.
“It’s a blessing,” White said of the rushing attack. “It makes my job that much easier when you have two running backs who give the defense another thing to worry about. The linebackers have to come up and open up the passing game. It all works together.”
From a maturity standpoint, coach Roger Harriott calls this team the best he has had in terms of leadership. Each player holds the others accountable, which “allows for them to excel within the game of football,” Harriott said.
Harriott talks of the strong relationship between the players and their position coaches, especially the philosophy preached within the program.
“Our coaches as a whole have done a great job of helping our players realize football is a privilege, and in order to maximize their potential, they need to focus on being a good person off the field,” Harriott said. “We’re extremely fortunate to have a very talented group of kids. Substantial amount of credit has to go to our coaches for helping them realize their potential.”
Last season, Delray American Heritage capitalized on turnovers to beat University School 31-20 in the regional final. The Stallions went on to win the state championship.
Some have advertised Friday night’s game as the real final because University (9-0) and Heritage (11-0) rank toward the top of the Class 3A polls. The winner will face Tampa Catholic (8-3) or Clearwater Central Catholic (10-1) in the state semifinals next week.
“Here at University School anything less than a state championship in our eyes is considered not a failure but a disappointment because we feel like we’re one of the better teams in the state,” White said. “Anything less than reaching that state championship would be considered a bust.”
In 2010, the Suns lost 56-55 in three overtimes to Trinity Catholic in the Class 2B title game. Duty-Tyson said it’s something that still remains in the back of his mind.
“It’s a different year,” he said. “We think about it, but at the same time we know it’s a different team, and we have another opportunity to take advantage of what’s ahead of us right now.”