You won’t hear chants of “Dark Side, Dark Side” at Camping World Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
But fans watching Carol City in the Class 6A state championship game might recognize the style its defense has learned from the architect of Miramar’s famous defenses from the past.
The Chiefs are playing in the state finals for the first time since 2003 — the last time they won a state championship.
And they have arrived in Orlando thanks largely to a defense that has become one of the stingiest in the state at giving up yards and points under the direction of former Miramar coach Damon Cogdell.
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“For me it’s about the territory, and being back home,” Cogdell said. “This was always my home away from home. There were some nights at West Virginia where I did miss coaching high school football. If it couldn’t be Miramar, Carol City made the most sense because I grew up around here.”
Cogdell, who led Miramar to its lone state championship in 2009 and a state runner-up finish two seasons later, was hired this past spring as associate head coach and defensive coordinator.
Cogdell, who grew up in the Opa-Locka area near Carol City, graduated from Miramar after moving there in the ninth grade.
He joined the Chiefs this season following a two-year stint as co-defensive line coach at West Virginia University. Following the 2015 season, West Virginia chose not to renew Cogdell’s contract.
Carol City head coach Aubrey Hill, a former college assistant coach at several schools including the Universities of Miami, University of Florida and a Carol City alumnus, called Cogdell upon learning of his status and proposed the idea of joining his staff.
“We run this together,” Hill said. “I’m pretty much blind to that side of the ball and I trust him to run it. The competition has often been fierce between the offense and the defense. But this has traditionally been a defensive school.”
Under Cogdell’s tutelage, Carol City’s defense enters Saturday’s game against unbeaten Lakeland Lake Gibson averaging the fewest yards allowed per game (105.1) of any team in South Florida.
That’s a better average than Miramar’s 2009 squad (122 yards per game) and 2011 team (143), which gave up the fewest yards in Broward County each of those seasons.
Carol City has allowed 9.2 points per game this season, and that average drops to 7.9 points if you count scores against its defense. That ranks second only to Southridge’s 4.9 points per game and 3.7 points against its defense.
But the Chiefs’ average yardage allowed is noticeably better than Southridge’s 163.6 per game.
Carol City made its way through one of the toughest schedules in the state with 10 of its 12 opponents making the playoffs. The only two that didn’t — Central and Norland — were in the Chiefs’ district.
One of the changes according to senior linebacker Morris Lugo, a University of Akron commit, was adapting multiple defensive schemes instead of just a basic 4-3 front.
Lugo, whose cousin Jamal Bass played for Cogdell at Miramar, knew of Cogdell’s history of developing great defenses.
“Having a high football IQ helps too, so we picked it up pretty quickly,” Lugo said. “But with the different formations we were able to confuse offenses more.”
Cogdell has instituted a 3-4 as well as 3-3-stack formations, helping the Chiefs’ versatile players thrive against different offensive styles.
“One thing about Damon’s scheme on defense that makes it effective is that most offenses are used to preparing for the 4-3,” Hill said. “Now when you start seeing a 3-4 or a 3-3-stack, you don’t see that every day. For some teams it takes more than a week to figure that out.”
Carol City has allowed less than 20 points in 11 of its 12 games this season and held opponents to single digits in eight of those games.
After winning a rematch against Northwestern in the second round of the playoffs, the Chiefs defeated two previously unbeaten teams — Daytona Beach Mainland and Punta Gorda Charlotte — on the road by a combined score of 72-7.
“The mind-set we had this season was just different,” Lugo said. “We had the players last season, but with our coaches and coach Cogdell, it all changed mentally. We knew we were a better team.”
IF YOU GO
What: The state football finals.
Where: Camping World Stadium, 1 Citrus Bowl Place, Orlando.
Admission: $12 and $17 per session if purchased prior to event; $15 and $20 at the gate; Parking: $10.
Friday’s schedule — Class 2A: Jacksonville University Christian 24, Champagnat Catholic 8; 5A: American Heritage (13-0) vs. Ponte Vedra (13-0), inc.; 7A: St. Thomas Aquinas (11-2) vs. Tampa Plant (13-0), inc.
Saturday’s schedule — Class 3A: Chaminade-Madonna (10-3) vs. Jacksonville Trinity Christian (10-3), 10 a.m.; 6A: Carol City (9-3) vs. Lakeland Lake Gibson (13-0), 3; 8A: Southridge (11-2) vs. Orlando Dr. Phillips (12-2), 8.
Thursday’s results — Class 1A: Pahokee 34, Baker 21; Class 4A: Cocoa 31, Jacksonville Bolles 17.