Dade Christian, in its 51st year of existence, is headed to its first state final in football.
The host Crusaders (12-0) defeated Naples First Baptist 27-13 on Friday night to advance to the Class 2A championship game against Jacksonville’s University Christian (12-1). Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. next Friday in Orlando at the Citrus Bowl. University beat Warner Christian 26-21 to advance.
The Crusaders were led by quarterback Gary Sampson, who ran 14 times for 137 yards and a touchdown. He made a big play on his first attempt from scrimmage to start each half, a 68-yard run in the first quarter and a 60-yard TD pass to Terrence Alls to start the third quarter.
Sampson, a senior who has been at Dade Christian for four years, said getting to the state final was a long time coming.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I can’t wait for next week. I’m ready.”
The Crusaders seemed ready against First Baptist (12-1), too, holding the Lions’ dangerous running attack to just 190 yards and no touchdowns. The previous week, in a 56-28 quarterfinal win over Carrollwood Day, First Baptist ran for 505 yards.
DC coach Mike Sonnebom, who went for it on fourth-and-3 from his own 43 in the second quarter, said it was his plan to challenge the Lions.
“We wanted to be aggressive — that’s our style of play,” Sonnebom said. “We didn’t want to trade punts with them.”
Dade Christian, which trailed just once at 7-0, took a 14-13 lead into halftime and got the ball first to start the third quarter. That’s when Sampson saw First Baptist stacking eight defenders in the box.
“We live and die with our quarterback — that’s always been our trend,” Sonnebom said. “We saw them in one high [just one safety deep], and we’re faster than them.
“We went downtown and made a play. Coming out of halftime, that’s a big momentum play. They play two safeties back a lot, and we couldn’t go vertical until right there.”
Dade Christian put the game away with a 1-yard TD run by Andrew Florvil, who dove over the pile on second and goal with 11:02 left in the game. That gave DC a 27-13 lead.
On First Baptist’s next drive, quarterback Jonah Bueltel was stopped a foot short on a fourth-and-1 run with 8:16 left.
First Baptist never threatened after that, and Dade Christian ran out the clock in its final home game of what has been a memorable season for Crusaders fans.
The team’s best previous finish was a loss in the 2006 state semifinals.
This season, the Crusaders endured some season-ending injuries in the first few weeks, losing a linebacker, an offensive lineman and two defensive backs. But since then, the 25 players on the roster have come together.
“I’m fired up for the school and fired up for the football team,” said Sonnebom, who is in his ninth year as a coach. “I’m excited.”