There’s more to Saturday’s Region 4-8A semifinal than a battle between two resurgent district foes that were left out of last year’s playoffs.
The reason Killian (9-1, 3-1) comes into the game with one record is the Cougars’ opponent Saturday.
On Oct. 6, South Dade (10-1, 4-0) came back from a touchdown deficit to top Killian 23-21 in a game that would ultimately decide the champion of District 16-8A.
“They’re going to come out scratching and clawing,” South Dade coach Nathaniel Hudson Jr. said. “Their only loss was us.”
“It is revenge,” Killian sophomore Jaquan Johnson said. “It is revenge because we feel like we were supposed to win that game even though we committed so many penalties. We made stupid mistakes that if we didn’t make we could’ve had that game easily.”
In that game, the Cougars committed 11 penalties for 115 yards, including a holding plus a personal foul on the same play that put them in a first-and-35 on a late drive.
While his players might have revenge on their mind, revenge isn’t what Killian coach Cory Johnson hopes to accomplish Saturday.
“Not revenge — avenge,” Johnson said. “When you play with revenge, you play blind and you play stupid. When you play to avenge something, you play with smarts and to never let it happen again. You mean to protect what you got.”
A major factor in the game, which will be played at Harris Field and broadcasted on 560 WQAM, is the injury to Buccaneers cornerback Antwan Cordy, who sustained a hairline fracture on his left shin in his team’s regular season finale against Homestead.
Cordy, who had some long special teams returns in the teams’ first meeting and registered four interceptions this season before going down, would have had the responsibility of shutting down Jaquan Johnson, Killian’s leading receiver and third-leading rusher in offensive coordinator Joe McCrink’s Wing-T offense.
“Losing Antwan Cordy is a big thing,” said South Dade linebacker and fullback Willie Cortes, who scored the game-winning 1-yard touchdown in that regular-season duel with Killian. “He helps out in special teams, defense and even offense too, but someone’s just got to step up and make plays to replace him.”
The leading candidate to slide in for Cordy at corner is wide receiver Devontay Keaton, who ranks second on the team in receiving behind C.J. Worton, but Hudson insists his defense is not so dependent on one player that it will falter in his absence.
“We would like to think that we don’t have one guy [whose injury would] impact the game,” Hudson said. “But at the same time it still comes down to the team maintaining their focus.”
While Killian’s offense had been predicated on misdirection runs out of the Wing-T last season and early this year, the unit has evolved to be able to pass more in spread formations.
It began with the South Dade game when Cougars quarterback David Felipe threw double-digit pass attempts for the first time in his career.
The change caught the Buccaneers off-guard, but they’ll be prepared for the pass this time around while understanding that Killian’s identity is still those misdirection runs, opening lanes for backs Harry Jones and Miguel Andrillon, among others.
With Killian allowing just 10.1 points per game and South Dade holding opponents to a putrid average of 8.4 points, both teams lean heavily on their defenses.
It all starts up front for the two units. Cedric Larsen and Jerome Wiggins keep blockers off the linebackers behind them for the Cougars, and the Buccaneers’ Donald Mesier and Ponce Jones have recorded 10 sacks apiece on the year.
Both teams are coming off impressive playoff wins against District 15-8A opponents.
South Dade, up 29-0 at one point but surrendering 16 fourth-quarter points with backup defenders in the game, beat Varela 29-16, and Killian crushed Southwest 45-7.
The winner Saturday will advance to regional finals to play the winner of Friday’s Columbus-Coral Gables game.