Echoes of past Southridge football greatness make people mention running backs Troy and Darren Davis.
The prolific duo was at the forefront of explosive offenses that helped the Spartans win a pair of state championships and become one of the nation’s best in the early 1990s.
Southridge’s formula for success is to shut offenses down - completely.
The Spartans had great defenses during their state championship years, but this year’s squad is blanking opponents at a historic rate.
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And it’s helped Southridge advance to the regional finals for only the third time in the past 17 years, and pull within three victories of its first state title since 1993.
“Coming into the season, we knew we’d have a great defense, but we didn’t expect this,” senior defensive back and three-year starter Coemba Jones, Jr. said. “Now we believe nobody can score on us.”
Southridge enters Friday’s Region 4-8A final against Coral Gables, which it will host on-campus at 3 p.m., having shut out its past seven opponents.
The Spartans (9-2) have posted eight shutouts overall this season, and have allowed only 53 points (4.4 points allowed per game). But their defense was responsible for 38 of those points, which came during a three-game span against Columbus, Carol City and Booker T. Washington – all playoff teams.
Southridge needs two more blankings to tie the state record for consecutive shutouts shared by several teams including Miami High (1930-31) and done only twice statewide in the modern era – Dunnellon (1961) and Baker (1981).
With one more shutout, the Spartans would join Miami High (1934), Coral Gables (1967) and Killian (1981) for the most in a season by a Dade team. The state record is 10 set by Bonifay Holmes County in 1965.
“We take a lot of pride in shutting people out,” senior defensive end/tackle Deandre Johnson said. “Last week Palmetto was on the 1-yard line, and we just said to each other, ‘They’re not scoring on us. We don’t want to let anyone score on us.”
Southridge’s starting defense has five players already committed to Football Subdivision-level schools and several more among starters and reserves that will likely follow suit.
Veteran coach Billy Rolle, who won state titles at Northwestern and Killian, said switching some key players to different positions helped the talented unit achieve its full potential by mid-season.
One such move was switching Johnson (6-4, 275 pounds) from end to tackle.
“At first I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but it’s taught me to use my hands better and I love the physicality of it,” said Johnson, who had 57 tackles and seven sacks in the regular season. “Wherever the team needs me, I’ll step up and make plays.”
The Spartans’ experience and flexibility for the good of the team is what Rolle said has been huge for a team that is on a seven-game winning streak since it last surrendered points against Carol City on Sept. 23.
“These guys have a lot of experience especially on that side of the ball,” Rolle said. “A lot of these guys have been on the opposite side of winning, but after two or three weeks they settled into their roles.”
Johnson, a Mississippi State commit, anchors the four-man front along with junior Randy Charlton (eight sacks), and the duo of senior Dimitri Prophete (82 tackles) and junior James Head, Jr. (61 tackles) - Miami-Dade County’s co-leaders in sacks with 16 each in the regular season.
Senior FIU commit Brandon James (118 tackles, one fumble return for a touchdown), Syracuse commit Nadarius Fagan (80 tackles) and University of Miami commit Billy Gibson (52 tackles) start at linebacker.
Senior safety Shawn Davis, a University of Florida commit, has a team-high four interceptions and leads the secondary along with Jones (100 tackles and three interceptions), and senior cornerbacks Juwan Horn and Antwan Collier, who has three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and a fumble return for a touchdown.
“Everybody on this team is hungry,” Johnson said. “Sometimes you will literally get hurt in practice because we after it so hard out there. The shutout streak has been fun, but we don’t want it to become a distraction. We’re focused on our main goal.”
Southridge enters Friday’s game having shut out its previous seven opponents and has eight shutouts overall this season. Those marks are approaching some of Miami-Dade and the state’s all-time records for shutting out opponents.
MOST SHUTOUTS IN A SEASON
Killian (1981) 9
Coral Gables (1967) 9
Miami High (1934) 9
NOTE: Bonifay Holmes County holds the record for most shutouts in a season with 10 in 1965.
LONGEST CONSECUTIVE SHUTOUT STREAKS
Miami High (1930-31) 9
Baker (1981) 9
Dunnellon (1961) 9