In the grand scheme of things, it was only a spring football game.
But don’t tell that to any of the members of the Miami Springs Golden Hawks football team or their coaches last week.
And while there certainly was no tearing down of the goal posts at Ronald Reagan High School, there were still plenty of smiling faces and a little bit of mild celebrating going on following Springs’ stirring second half comeback that resulted in a 26-21 victory over the Bison.
And you could not have scripted a better finish for the Hawks as the game-winner came in dramatic fashion. Trailing 21-20 and on their own 38 with just under three minutes left, Springs hit paydirt.
Having played the entire day without the services of a placekicker (David Torres was unavailable), thus needing to cross the goal line to win, they did. That’s when quarterback Gerald Anderson dropped back and fired a strike down the middle on a deep post crossing pattern, hitting Johnny Rembrick in stride who had gotten behind the Reagan secondary and sprinted to the end zone.
A minute later, Springs defensive back Myron Morris picked off a Reagan pass to seal the deal and complete a remarkable comeback for the Hawks who trailed 21-6 midway through the third quarter.
“When I said hike, I was looking at Johnny (Rembrick) all the way,” said Anderson who enjoyed a huge day completing 12-of-25 for 237 yards and three touchdown passes, all to Rembrick. “As soon as I saw him cut, I let the ball go and knew he would run under it. He wasn’t the primary on the play but in my head from our days in Optimist, I know he can make plays and knew he would get there if I put it out there for him.”
“It was time to make a play so I just went out and made a play,” said Rembrick, a young man of very few words who would finish the day with four catches for 133 yards and those three scores.
“This was a pretty big deal for us today,” said head coach Darryel Bethune. “We definitely grew as a team. Sometimes you just have to go through some things to find out where your team is at and we hadn’t been in that kind of situation and today we showed some character and that we don’t give up.”
Again, just a spring game that, when the Hawks take the field for real in their regular season opener again Hialeah in late August won’t amount to a hill of beans. Or will it?
Coming off a watershed regular season last fall that saw the Springs football program enjoy not only a 7-3 regular season but its first postseason birth in 18 years, perhaps raised the bar as far as level of expectations were concerned going into 2014.
But talk to Bethune in the weeks leading up to the Reagan contest, and you talked to a coach not only concerned about “low numbers” on a team that had graduated many seniors (Springs only had 30 players in uniform against Reagan) but a coach who lost three of his top players in defensive backs Malik Adelson and Sean Lee along with offensive lineman Michael Lowe to the usual poaching from Miami Central and Northwestern, Adelson and Lee off to the former, Lowe the latter.
“We lost some really key players, in Malik, Sean and Michael, especially Malik as he was going to be the central focus of our team,” said Bethune. “Yes, it’s very frustrating where you bring kids along, develop them and then they leave – actually not leave but simply be taken by other schools that see the talent that we develop. But it’s all okay, we’ll coach the kids we have, I’ve got a good staff and we’ll try and find a way to get it done.”
All the more reason for the Hawks to find a way to come back and win the Reagan game as it’s a young group again that will need to build and come together as a team.
I”m ready to lead this team, ready to accept the responsibility of being a team captain,” said Anderson, a senior who is one of only a handful of returning starters. “We’ve lost a lot of guys from last year but we’ve come out in the spring with a lot of new faces and that’s why coming back to win today the way we did will go a long ways to defining this team and maybe bring us together. It’s a good way to go into the summer.”
The way the game started, it looked like it might be a long day for the Hawks as Reagan came out clicking on all cylinders.
Led by their patented wing ground attack, the Bison dominated the first quarter going up 14-0 on a 29 yard touchdown run by Diego Mendoza and a 9 yard scoring toss from Tyler Ibarra to Gabriel Gejo.
Springs scored late in the first half on the first of the three Anderson-to-Rembrick hookups, this one from nine yards out to trim the Reagan lead to 14-6 but when Dionoven Rosa bolted 63 yards for a score on the fourth play of the second half, it gave Reagan a 21-6 lead and things looked bleak for the Hawks.
But a defense that had been carved up for 184 rushing yards and 10 first downs to that point, would tighten up the rest of the game, yielding just 37 yards and two first downs the remainder of the contest.
Meanwhile the offense kept fighting as Anderson led his unit on a five-play, 70 yard drive midway through the third quarter, hitting Rembrick from 10 yards out for the score to cut slice their deficit to 21-12 after a failed two-point attempt.
On the next Reagan possession the Springs defense came through with a big play when big defensive tackle Stacey Shaw, all 5-11, 285 lbs. of him shot through a gap and stuffed Reagan running back Jose Molina for a loss but even better, stripped the ball loose and linebacker Irick McDonald fell on it at the Bison 25.
But, frustrated all day with no placekicker, the Hawks, for the second time in the red zone, were forced to go for it on fourth down rather than take three points and Anderson’s desperation heave to the end zone was intercepted.
Undaunted, the Springs defense led by Shaw’s two tackles for losses on the next Reagan drive, forced a punt and Anderson led his team downfield again.
A 60-yard, nine-play drive was capped off by running back D.J. Bethune’s (yes, the head coaches son) five yard spurt up the middle for a score. Anderson then hit Bethune for the two-pointer to make it 21-20 with 9:20 left in the game.
After a Reagan punt, the Hawks took over at their own 25 but three plays later, Anderson was picked off at the Springs 27 with 6:30 left and the Bison were in great shape to put the game away.
One last time, the Springs defense came through. With the Bison facing a third-and-one at the 18, linebacker Franklin Natte shot through and stuffed Molina for a two-yard loss forcing fourth down. McDonald then put big-time pressure on Ibarra when he attempted a fourth-down rollout pass forcing an incompletion and setting the stage for Springs’ game-winning drive.
“We struggled in the first half a little bit and a lot of that was on me because I really wasn’t getting the outside containment which is part of my responsibility,” said McDonald. “But our coaches did a good job of helping us make the adjustment and we definitely did a much better job in the second half and made the plays when we had to.”
“We’ve worked hard all spring to try and get the team to come together and try to get better so today was important,” said D.J. Bethune who finished as the game’s leading rusher with 86 yards on 17 carries. “This may have only been a spring game today but it was big for us and to come back the way we did will only help us come together as a team down the road.”