While there was plenty of disappointment etched on the faces of Miami Springs football players and coaches following the program’s first playoff game in nearly two decades, one could not help but feel the sense of optimism as well.
And finding optimism is never easy when you just got steamrolled 56-0. In what we in the journalism business refer to as a “running-clock special,” the Golden Hawks traveled north to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas High School last Friday night to play in a Class 7A regional quarterfinal contest with no false illusions.
They knew what was in front of them. The euphoria of Springs making the playoffs for the first time since 1995 meant nothing to an Aquinas football program that hangs a total of seven state championship banners on their field, including two national championships in 2008 and 2010.
Which had a lot to do with why things got out of hand so quickly for the outmanned, outgunned and out-everythinged Golden Hawks.
Hawks players found out the hard way just what “the next level” looks like and how much further they have to go if they ever wish to reach that kind of rarified air.
The Raiders scored six of their eight touchdowns before halftime even arrived and, thanks only to a running clock, scored just twice in the second half.
And yet, with his team gathered around him in tight after the game, Springs head coach Darryel Bethune talked of his love for the kids, thanked them for a memorable season and talked of how a “new bar” had been set for Miami Springs football.
“Whew,” Bethune reacted after talking to his kids, looking like a coach who had just been taken to the shed and taught a lesson or two. “You have to give all of the credit to St. Thomas. This is a program that that has set the standard for everyone else and put up multiple championships. Even though we accomplished a lot this year, tonight showed us just how much further we have to go.
“Having said that, I can’t tell you how proud I am of those kids over there. We came a very long way this season and I told them after the game that we’re a team now that’s known as Miami Springs, a playoff contender. So now a new bar has been set around this place and it’s up to me and my coaches to continue to advance this program.”
Bethune tried as hard as he could all week during practice to convince his players that while St. Thomas was a tough opponent with a storied past sporting bright, shiny, expensive uniforms, the football field was the same size as for any other game they had played all season.
“Why not us, why not now?” was his message all week.
But when the Hawks received the opening kickoff and went backwards on a pair of Gerald Anderson sacks, followed that with a 15-yard punt and then watched the Raiders go 35 yards in just five plays for a 7-0 lead, the reality of the situation started to settle in very quickly.
Thanks to a pair of Wade Freeback touchdown passes to Sean Bender and three scoring runs by running back Madre London, it was 42-0 at halftime. Time for the running clock and to prepare for the postgame speach.
“It was obvious from the start that they were simply bigger, stronger, faster and deeper than us,” said Bethune. “Of course you always want to put up a better fight than we did, but I guess I have to admit the kids might have been a little overwhelmed by the moment and the opponent.”
And, as much as it was difficult to admit it, Hawks players were pretty much resigned to the fact that indeed they had taken a major step up in class on Friday night.
“I think we were definitely a bit intimidated,” said senior offensive lineman Armani Hernandez, who is one of only three Hawks players to have endured the team’s winless season in 2011. “Aquinas is a really big school, they’ve won multiple state titles, they’re ranked No. 5 in the nation, so you pretty much know coming in here what you’re up against.”
But Hernandez, like so many other Golden Hawks on this evening, kept everything in perspective and talked about the fantastic history-making journey their team lived in 2013.
“From where we came from, from where I was two years ago, to have to play next to these guys was really an honor,” said Hernandez. “We played our hearts out throughout the season, so that’s all that’s important. But what a great experience to be able to come in here and be a part of something like this. It was great playing with these players and for these coaches. I hope me and the rest of the seniors have helped blaze a trail for the underclassmen and hopefully things will keep moving in the right direction.”
“It was a big stage for us tonight for sure, but it was a good learning experience for us and we’ll hopefully come back next year,” said junior defensive back Malik Adelson. “Next year it’ll be nothing but playoffs, and hopefully we’ll go farther. We weren’t necessarily intimidated, we were just happy to get the chance to play against them. Big school, big game, Springs has never been a part of something like this.”
One by one, Hawks players slowly made their way to the awaiting buses.
“We were just happy to be here,” said senior wide receiver Keavntra Floyd. “From the road that we came from, from me being on the sidelines hurt my sophomore year, I was just glad to be here. Just playing with these guys I’ve been out here with forever was enough for me.”