KISSIMMEE -- The deepest run a Miami-Dade County team has ever managed in the state flag football playoffs came to an end Saturday, though Monsignor Pace’s girls can leave with their heads held high — and a glimpse of the caliber required to make the final jump.
The Spartans fell 21-0 to defending champion Seminole Ridge in the semifinals, unable to counter a high-powered Hawks passing attack that broke open a tight game with two touchdowns right before halftime.
Morgan Lauer hit Michelle Valero and Kaitlin O’Hara with TD passes — O’Hara’s came on a flea-flicker — to give Seminole Ridge a 14-0 lead at the break. Lauer added a rushing touchdown to start the second half.
“They have that title for a reason,” Pace coach John Rodriguez said of the Hawks. “Give all the credit to them. They have a great team and they’re very precise.”
Seminole Ridge (18-0), seeking a third state title in four years, advanced to face Jacksonville Mandarin in the championship match. Mandarin booked its place with a 19-13 victory over Orlando Dr. Phillips.
Pace, the first Miami-Dade team to reach Finals weekend, finished its season at 17-1. Rodriguez lingered at midfield long after the final whistle had blown, chatting up Hawks coach Austin Bowe for several minutes.
“As you can see, I’ve got a smile on my face,” he said. “I’m very proud of what our team accomplished this year.”
After losing six top players from its 2012 squad, the Spartans reloaded behind sophomore quarterback Sabrina Cabrera and senior receivers Brandi Harrington and Kadesha Floyd.
“We got a lot farther than we ever expected,” Rodriguez said. “It was a great ride, a great run. I’m happy for the girls. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of teams.”
Pace had a chance to break on top, reaching the Hawks late in the first quarter before Cabrera fired three incompletions in a row. Seminole Ridge had just four offensive snaps in the quarter — an interception and three incompletions — before finding a rhythm in the second.
Three completions quickly took the Hawks to the Pace 12, where Lauer found Valero on a crossing pattern that ended with Valero weaving her way through four Spartans into the end zone with 3:44 left before halftime.
The Hawks regained possession on a Sydney Fusco interception, then caught Pace flat-footed with some trickery. Receiver Emily Coulter took the snap and pitched backwards to Lauer, who stepped up and hit O’Hara at the goal line with 12.4 seconds left.
Seminole Ridge also had the first possession of the second half, which was aided by two defensive holding calls before Lauer went the final 8 yards to score herself.
Lauer, who completed just one of her first seven passes, ended up throwing for 173 yards. Valero accounted for 91 yards on six catches.
If it’s any consolation, Pace held the Hawks to their third-lowest point total of the season and well below their scoring average of 35.8. Seminole Ridge scored 13 points in the regional final against Palm Beach Gardens and 20 against Jupiter.
Cabrera threw for just 78 yards, completing just seven of 24 attempts. Harrington had three catches for 31 yards, with Floyd adding 34 yards on two grabs. Harrington, Floyd and Destiny Wilson each intercepted Lauer once.