Defense delivered Friday morning for Champagnat Catholic as it did throughout the playoffs.
But their efforts weren’t enough to help the Lions secure a state championship.
The same type of defensive effort that helped Champagnat endure despite recent offensive woes couldn’t overcome that unit’s state record-low output in a 24-8 loss to Jacksonville University Christian in the Class 2A state final at Camping World Stadium.
The Lions forced four turnovers, but their offense could not capitalize on any of them and was pushed back for a state finals record low minus-42 yards rushing. That mark surpassed the record set by Columbus in 2014 in the Class 8A final against Apopka.
“Up front we definitely showed how young we were on offense,” Champagnat Catholic coach Dennis Marroquin said. “And you just can’t make mistakes like that and turn the ball over. It killed us.”
Champagnat (11-2) managed to beat Naples First Baptist and St. Petersburg Northside Christian in their previous two playoff games despite scoring only 21 combined points.
The Lions, who were chasing what would have been their second state championship in four seasons, started four freshmen and used up to six on offense during the playoffs.
Champagnat’s defense allowed a combined three points in those two previous wins, and held University Christian to only a field goal for nearly three quarters Friday.
While its defense shined and offense struggled, a special teams mistake produced University Christian’s first touchdown.
Daryn Jones, who nailed a 66-yard punt in the second quarter, averaged only 26.7 yards per kick. His 8-yard, low line drive late in the third clipped the backside of one of his linemen, was fielded on the run by Leon Huey, and he returned it 27 yards for the game’s first touchdown that gave University a 10-0 lead.
Devante Mitchell, however, blocked a punt early in the fourth quarter that gave Champagnat possession at the University 1-yard line.
But the Lions’ offense self-destructed again even after yet another second chance.
Following a delay of game penalty, Calvin Montgomery fumbled and University’s Uriah Ratliff recovered. But on the return, Ratliff was stripped of the ball by Rousseau, and the Lions got the ball back when Cristian Javier recovered at the 16.
Champagnat appeared to score for a moment when sophomore Kervin Dessources threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Marc Britt. But the play was nullified when Britt committed offensive pass interference. On the next play, Dessources was intercepted by Dyrell Stubbs.
University capitalized with a seven-play, 64-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback Clayton Boyd resulting in a 17-0 lead.
“Their linebackers were a big problem for us all day,” Britt said. “They kept getting penetration on our O-line and just blowing plays up on us.”
Champagnat finished with 107 total yards, but until Dessources found junior Greg Rousseau over the middle for a 30-yard completion on the final play of the third quarter, the Lions had totaled only 6 yards.
That connection put Champagnat’s offense on University Christian’s side of the field for the first time in the game. But the drive stalled in the red zone moments later and ended when the two had a miscommunication on an incomplete pass thrown to the corner of the end zone.
Champagnat finally scored when Dessources threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Johnquai Lewis with 35 seconds left.
“We just couldn’t get anything going today and it was frustrating,” Lewis said. “We’ll just have to work harder to try and get back up here again.”