Cardinal Gibbons’ "Air Raid" offense lived up to its moniker last season.
Much of it was thanks to junior Nik Scalzo, a 5-11, 185-pound dual-threat quarterback who often scrambles "Johnny Manziel style" making solid throws on the run and has an offer from the University of Illinois.
Gibbons’ passing game produced over 3,000 yards and contributed heavily to the team’s 32.1 points per game average, which ranked second in Broward behind St. Thomas Aquinas.
It wasn’t enough to beat eventual Class 5A state champion Plantation American Heritage in a pair of close games that cost Gibbons the District 16-5A title and their season after a 10-7 regional semifinal defeat.
Never miss a local story.
There’s much more to Gibbons this season.
Scalzo did a lot less scrambling on Saturday night during an eye-opening 27-6 Gibbons’ victory over defending Class 8A state champion Miami Southridge.
There’s a running game with three strong backs - Vincent Davis, Brandon Lee and Jordan Riggins - that has balanced its offense.
Its offensive line led by stalwarts like 6-5, 275-pound senior tackle Trey Bennett and 6-4, 280-pound junior tackle Jamari Williams have made the biggest difference according to coach Matt DuBuc, who implemented the high-octane offense resembling Washington State University’s scheme under coach Mike Leach last season.
"With our passing game teams can’t play us one way anymore," DuBuc said. "I’m really excited about the direction we’re heading. We’re not one-dimensional and that makes Nik even more dangerous.
"It was time for us to win one of these big games. We had some big wins last year, but right now, this is the biggest one for us."
The added balance on offense is enough to strongly consider the Chiefs the biggest threat to Heritage’s title reign in Class 5A.
Scalzo stood in the pocket with plenty of time to throw on Saturday night.
Scalzo threw three touchdown passes and completed 13 of 24 attempts for 227 yards.
The 2016 Chiefs totaled less than 900 yards rushing.
The Chiefs may surpass that mark over their first few games if Saturday’s game wasn’t an aberration. Davis ran for 119 yards against a Southridge defense that yielded only 63.4 rushing yards per game a year ago.
"Last year we didn’t have much of a run game, but this year we do," Scalzo said. "This is one of the best offensive lines in Gibbons history. If they give me more than four seconds to throw we can demolish teams."
Gibbons returned seven starters on offense and seven more on defense.
The latter unit held Southridge to 75 total yards on Saturday and forced three turnovers including a pair of interceptions (Sydney Porter and Marquis Williams). Gibbons also recorded two safeties.
Williams, a Pittsburgh commitment, jumped and snared a pass intended for UM commit Mark Pope in the end zone on his takeaway.
"The future is bright across the board," DuBuc said. "We have a ton of sophomores and a lot of seniors and juniors in key positions. We’re going to continue to build and build."
-The victory was the Cardinal Gibbons football program’s 300th all-time.
-After another promising Southridge drive self-destructed with back-to-back penalties and a turnover, Spartans coach Billy Rolle was ejected from the game after receiving a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Sandy was also ejected after his second touchdown catch after his second unsportsmanlike foul when he spiked the ball near a Southridge player.
Both Rolle and Sandy will not be able to participate in their next games due to the automatic seven-day suspension following an ejection. Southridge plays North Miami on Friday and Cardinal Gibbons hosts Delray American Heritage.