Cypress Bay needed a wake-up call at halftime so senior linebacker Nico Marley took the lead and rang the bell for the Lightning.
Trailing 14-3 at the half, the Lightning scored 28 second-half points, 31 unanswered overall, en route to a 31-14 win at Loxahatchee Seminole Ridge (8-3) and a chance to host the Class 8A state semifinals against Miami Columbus next Friday.
Running Back Matt Dayes rushed 13 times for 70 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead the offense, and Alex Montgomery finished it off with a 56-yard interception return for touchdown with two minutes to play.
“Our leader, Nico Marley, he pretty much got us up. Our coaches always tell us about handling adversity, and that’s what we did playing much better in the second half,” Dayes said.
But it didn’t come without some luck. Down 14-3 and with its offense continuously shooting itself in the foot, the Lightning (11-2) got a roughing-the-kicker call from the Seminole Ridge 21-yard line that gave Cypress Bay another chance after the kick fell way short.
Then facing, third-and-22 from the 23, Jaranta Lewis found Kadeem Goulbourne in the back of the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown pass, cutting the deficit to 14-10 with 5:19 to play in the third. The play wasn’t without luck itself as the ball should have been interception by Silas Spearman, but it squirted through his hands into Goulbourne’s and the Lightning was back in the game, not just on the scoreboard, but mentally.
“We did need a break. You got to give Coach Dickman and his staff a lot of credit because they come out and punch us in the mouth, and they were ready to play and we weren’t. I don’t know how you can’t, but it was good to see us battle back,” Cypress Bay coach Mark Guandolo said. “We always say on our worst day we have to be good enough to win. We panicked a little, coaches, players, we had that deer-in-the-headlights-kind of look because we hadn’t had that happen to us in a while.”
After forcing a three-and-out, Dayes finally broke through scoring on a 43-yard touchdown run on the first play of the next possession. The Lightning led 17-14 and never looked back.
“We made some adjustments and started attacking some different areas,” Guandolo said. “It was a good test for us.”
Marquese Dudley-Gordon then intercepted Zach Decosta at the Seminole Ridge 32-yard line and returned it to the 18-yard line. Four plays later, Dayes was in the end zone again, this time on a 5-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter.
Then Montgomery ended all doubt.
Two years ago, Cypress Bay found out just how much it hurt to get this close and go home. With a number of seniors on this team who played heavy minutes in that 30-27 loss to Miami Central, the Lightning is an experienced group and ready to go against Columbus.
“It’s still fresh in my mind. We just got to go out and play our game,” Dayes said. “I think we’re a way better team than we were two years ago so we just got to handle our business next week.”
Seminole Ridge came out on fire. Spearman scored on a 53-yard TD pass from Decosta for a 7-0 lead. Spearman’s 55-yard reception set up his own 10-yard touchdown run giving the Hawks a 14-0 lead with over ten minutes to play in the first half, but they could never get near the end zone again.