North Miami Beach coach Jeff Bertani was soaking wet and freezing cold on Thursday night — and he didn’t mind one bit.
Bertani had just taken a dousing from the water cooler by his players following the Chargers’ big 14-6 win over American in a showdown for the District 13-8A championship at North Miami Stadium.
The win marked NMB’s first district title since 2010 after American had won five consecutive titles. NMB will host Coral Gables in a first round playoff game on Nov. 11.
“Just a great moment for our kids and it’s just great to see their hard work and dedication pay off,” Bertani said. “We didn’t play our best game of the year [Thursday] but it makes it even sweeter because of how hard they fought through it.”
Bertani watched his defense some up big in the final minutes as American drove it inside the 10-yard line. But a second down stuff for no gain at the 7, an incomplete pass on third down and sack of American quarterback Wanya Williams on fourth down gave the ball back to the Chargers with 4:37 left.
Three first downs later, thanks mainly to a huge 16-yard scramble on third-and-14 by NMB quarterback Wendell Morrison, the game was over.
“We just came out and played hard [Thursday] and did what we had to do,” said Morrison, who completed 7 of 18 passes for 99 yards but did most of the damage with his feet, rushing for 68 yards on 17 carries. “Our goal at the start of the season was to get back on top of our district again and we’re there.”
Speaking of his star quarterback, Bertani said: “Wendell is unbelievable. He started off slow [Thursday] but the kid has been making plays all year long for us and he eventually came around and did it again. We’re going to ride him as far as he will take us. We’ve done that with other great players, we’re going to do it with him too.”
After NMB started the game by squandering two scoring opportunities from inside the 10 when Bertani spurned short field goal attempts to go for it on fourth and goal from the 5 and the 9, American got on the board first late in the first quarter and in shocking fashion.
Despite just four yards of offense and no first downs to that point, Williams dropped back in his own end zone and fired a perfect strike to a streaking Hansel Chacon for a 93-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was blocked.
Led by Morrision, the Chargers answered American’s score with a 10-play, 80-yard drive that culminated when Morrison tossed a lateral pass in the flat to Fritz Merus, who then squared up and found a wide open Shaide Ramirez for a 36-yard score and 7-6 lead following the extra point.
“We work on that play all the time and it’s not the first time we hit this year,” Merus said. “This win was big for us [Thursday]. We’ve been down a few times over the years but NMB football is back on the map.”
After both teams traded punts to start the second half, NMB went on a long 10-play, 89-yard drive that culminated with a 2-yard Jordan Atkins touchdown run on the second play of the fourth quarter.
The key play might have been the third play of the drive when Morrison was sacked back at his own 10 on third down but a Patriots defender grabbed his face mask, giving the Chargers a fresh set of downs.
The game was halted for 20 minutes with 8:45 left when NMB defensive back Ernest Labassiere appeared to sustain a possibly significant injury to his left leg. Fire Rescue was called, and Labassiere was transported to Jackson Memorial North Hospital.