ORLANDO -- It took South Dade more than six decades to know the feeling of winning a state football championship.
After scoring the upset of this year’s state finals, the Buccaneers gave the Homestead-area school its long-awaited chance to celebrate.
Tyre Brady’s 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown capped a late defensive stand that helped South Dade dethrone defending state champion Apopka 41-28 in the Class 8A final Saturday night in the Citrus Bowl.
The Bucs’ first state title gave Dade four state champions in the same season for the first time joining Miami Central (Class 6A), Miami Booker T. Washington (Class 4A) and Hialeah Champagnat Catholic (Class 2A).
South Dade (14-1) became the first school from the southern Miami-Dade County area since Miami Killian (2004) to win a state title.
“It’s been 60 years,” said South Dade coach Nate Hudson as he could barely contain his emotions. “These guys … they put a lot of work into this. The coaches, I’m so proud of them. All of this preparation and hard work has paid off.
“We talked about being a champion. These guys worked hard and put themselves in this position, and now they can’t take this away from us.”
Brady’s fumble recovery came with 1:10 remaining as Apopka attempted a hook-and-lateral play on fourth-and-21 from its own 3. Apopka receiver Jacob Wittrock caught a pass from quarterback Chandler Cox and quickly tossed it to receiver J.J. Simmons. But Simmons couldn’t handle it, and Brady swooped in to pick up the loose ball and scored.
“When I saw the ball, I just said grab it and run and score by any means necessary,” said Brady, who also finished with six catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. “We did it for the whole South Dade community.”
South Dade’s defense appeared well-prepared for Apopka’s potent single-wing offense from the outset. The Bucs held the Blue Darters (13-2) scoreless in the first quarter, something none of Apopka’s other opponents could do during the playoffs.
Apopka, which came in averaging 51.7 points per game, managed to set the state single-season for points with 752, surpassing Tampa Jefferson’s 746 in 2010.
The solid effort allowed South Dade to build a 13-0 advantage thanks to several long touchdown plays by its passing game. Apopka, which was held to its season-low scoring output, came back to take a 14-13 lead early in the second quarter.
But South Dade answered with another big play when senior quarterback Kahlil Render hit Tarviant Williams with a short pass he turned into a 71-yard go-ahead score. The Bucs never trailed again.
Render tied a state finals record with five touchdown passes, equaling former Miramar quarterback Ryan Williams’ total in the 2009 Class 6A final. Render completed 16 of 20 passes for 304 yards and ran for 99 yards on 11 carries.
Render said he got some inspiration from former Miami Northwestern and University of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
“I called him and he told me to go out there and do what I had to do and not to worry about the pressure,” Render said. “His mom and my mom both had breast cancer so I reached out to him. Teddy Bridgewater is my role model I look up to him.”
Senior wide receiver C.J. Worton came up with several clutch catches and finished with six for 159 yards and three touchdowns.
“[Being the underdogs] made us work harder all week,” Worton said. “We read the newspapers, we heard all the rumors about their offense, and they played great, too, but we prepared real well and came to play, too. We’re going to brag about it; we earned the bragging rights.”
The emotional impact of the victory was overwhelming to Hudson, South Dade’s players and coaches and key figures from its past, including former longtime coach Don Drinkhahn and former longtime athletic director Joel Furnari, each of whom watched the game from the sideline.
“I’m a proud papa right now,” said Furnari, who retired earlier this year after working as the athletic director since 1984. “Not just the kids, but the coaches and just look at all these people that came down from Homestead. I couldn’t be happier.”
Drinkhahn, who gave Hudson his first coaching job at South Dade as a defensive backs coach and coached Hudson’s three siblings at the school, drove down from Greenville, S.C., to watch the game.
“I’m as proud as I can be,” said Drinkhahn, who coached South Dade for more than two decades. “I was born in Michigan, but South Dade is my high school. Ever since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the community has been in the doldrums down there, and these guys have made an impact working our way back. These kids could have thrown in the towel tonight several times, and they never did.”