Patrick Surtain ventured out a few yards onto the field in disbelief.
Friday’s Class 5A state championship game came down to one final play and Ponte Vedre didn’t even make one.
With 12 seconds left and American Heritage leading 35-33, Zack Thompson punted deep.
Surtain, the Patriots’ first-year coach, told his senior punter to kick it out of bounds. Instead, Thompson’s kick hit the turf, bouncing around for a bit.
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Following every hop was Surtain, jumping into the air. Ponte Vedra had one chance left against American Heritage left and didn’t field the ball, letting the clock run out.
American Heritage players sprinted onto the field celebrating their third state title in four years.
“My blood pressure!” Surtain exhaled afterward. “What a great high school football game. No team deserved to lose this game. Hats off to Ponte Vedra, they played a wonderful game.
“But our kids hung in there. … Three championships in four years? Hell of a job by our guys.”
Surtain, the former Miami Dolphins defensive back, took over for friend Mike Rumph, who left for a job with Mark Richt at Miami.
As part of Rumph’s staff the past few years, Surtain knew exactly the kind of talent the Patriots had and no one had higher expectations for this season than he did.
So, in August, when the Patriots got beat up by Booker T. Washington 27-7 in a preseason game, Surtain let his guys hear it. Following the game, Surtain went on a diatribe, challenging his players to do more — give more — to fulfill the lofty expectations.
“We knew what kind of football team we had, we just needed to cut out the undisciplined things and play our brand of football,” Surtain said. “We carried that the rest of the year. We got punched in the mouth [Friday], but we responded. A win is a win and we’re going to take this home. People can say what they want, but they can’t take this championship away.”
The loss to Booker T. was Heritage’s second in a row on the field after being knocked out of the 2015 Class 5A playoffs in the regional final by Hallandale.
“Yeah, I think we might have needed something like that,” quarterback Jason Brown said, “just as a humbling experience to remind us and let us know that we still had a long way to go and that we would need to come out and work harder than everybody else. It definitely woke us up. We came really came together as a team after that.”
Although the Booker T. loss technically doesn’t count, it did hurt the Patriots’ national standing. Despite a 14-0 record, American Heritage won’t have much of a chance at winning a national championship this season.
By the looks on Surtain and his players’ faces, that’s OK.
The gold around their neck commemorating another state championship is a nice prize in and of itself.
“This is a great feeling, we worked hard all summer for this and prepared for it. We deserved it,” said Patrick Surtain Jr., a junior cornerback.
“We did our thing after the Booker T. game. We decided we didn’t want to have that feeling again. We came out hard, played hard, prepared hard. My dad said, at the end of the day, he was going to bring us a state championship. We fulfilled that goal. I’m proud of all of us right now. Me and my dad have a special relationship. We’re going to share this for a lifetime.”