ORLANDO -- Dade Christian’s football team succeeded all season playing iron man football mostly by necessity.
But in the second half of Friday’s state championship game, the Crusaders’ stamina finally gave out.
Battling its growing number of injuries and fatigue, Dade Christian watched its fragile four-point lead disappear along with its title hopes as a deeper Jacksonville University Christian team scored 22 second-half points to beat the Crusaders 28-10 in the Class 2A championship at the Citrus Bowl.
University Christian (13-1), which won its seventh state championship and first since 1994, scored 14 of those 22 points in the final four minutes of the game after a potential go-ahead Dade Christian drive stalled after reaching the Christians’ 9-yard line.
The Crusaders (12-1), who played in their first state title game in their school’s 51-year history, were the only remaining undefeated team in Miami-Dade County.
“I’m proud of our guys because that score doesn’t do this game justice,” Dade Christian coach Mike Sonneborn said. “I was worried about our depth and late in the game we got fatigued and we didn’t have enough bodies there at the end.”
Dade Christian cancelled class Friday as three buses brought red-clad students and fans to give Dade Christian a big cheering section among the crowd of 1,224 hoping to see if the Crusaders’ small roster of 30 players could pull off another resilient victory.
Team leaders such as quarterback Gary Sampson and wide receiver Terrance Alls were pivotal in helping the Crusaders take the lead in the first half.
But both were among several players who began suffering cramps and pain in their nagging injuries in the third quarter, and thus limited their productivity.
Alls, a Duke commitment, finished with seven catches for 90 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown catch over the middle on a pass from Sampson that put Dade Christian ahead 10-6 with 2:58 left in the first quarter.
In the second half, however, Alls had only one catch for 18 yards while hampered with cramps. Sonneborn said Alls, who will have shoulder surgery Wednesday, also had to have his shoulder popped back into place a couple of times during the game.
“Those guys just started cramping up and your body can only take so many reps,” Sonneborn said. “We depend on them a lot because they’re such good football players. They missed some time there at the end, but our guys have nothing to be ashamed of.”
The Crusaders also committed 13 penalties for 92 yards, including a holding call that nullified a 19-yard touchdown pass from Sampson to Alls with 8:53 left in the second that could have given them a 17-6 lead. The drive ended in a punt three plays later.
Dade Christian’s defense kept University Christian’s potent offense that entered Friday averaging 44 points per game including a 45.3 average in three playoff games in check until the final play of the third quarter.
On a third-and-2 from Dade Christian’s 26, University Christian running back Hussein Howe bounced to the outside and broke three tackles before turning the corner and surging down the sideline for the go-ahead score. The Christians took a 14-10 lead on the two-point conversion when quarterback Tim Betros found Tamarius Bowes in the end zone between two defenders that reached the spot late.
University Christian scored its only points in the first half on defense. No one on Dade Christian’s offensive line picked up linebacker Chase Moody on a blitz, allowing Moody to sack Sampson and force a fumble. Howe picked up the ball and ran 23 yards for the opening score, giving the Christians a 6-0 lead with 6:50 left in the first quarter.
The Christians used their deeper roster of 51 to continually rotate fresh linemen up front and wear down the Dade Christian defense. University Christian finished with 252 rushing yards on 37 carries.
Sampson, who has battled ankle, shoulder and rib injuries throughout the latter half of the season, opened Dade Christian’s drive following University Christian’s go-ahead score with a 20-yard run. But a severe leg cramp forced him out. He missed the next five plays and his absence disrupted the momentum as Dade Christian eventually punted.
Sampson connected with Vince Young for a 36-yard completion to the University Christian 15-yard line on the Crusaders’ ensuing possession. Sampson ran six yards to the 9 on the next play. But two plays later, University Christian’s defense broke through and sacked Sampson at the 16. Sampson’s fourth-down pass was broken up Jake Stoshak.
University Christian running back Jeremiah Hamlin sealed the outcome on the ensuing play when he broke an 83-yard touchdown run.
“I’m going to remember how hard we fought,” Young said. “The gas tank just landed on ‘E’ today.”