Just three short years after inheriting a program that had been stripped clean following a 2012 state championship, University School head coach Daniel Luque stood proudly with his celebrating players on Friday night.
The Sharks, who even changed their nickname from the Suns during the school and athletic program’s makeover, had just finished off winning a wild shootout over Monsignor Pace 42-39 in a Region 4-4A final at University School.
In a game that had some pregame buildup as being an evenly-matched classic that could come down to the last possession, the game lived up to all of its billing as the Sharks had to hang on and bleed the final three minutes off the clock after Pace had scored to cut the led to three with under four minutes left.
And if Luque and his kids have anyone to thank on Saturday morning, it would running back Kenny McIntosh. The junior who is No. 48 in ESPN’s top 300 recruit list why as he ran over, around and through the Pace defense all night long on his way to a huge 243 yard, 25-carry, five touchdown night.
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The Sharks (10-1) advance to next week’s Class 4A state semifinal and will have a daunting task in front of them. That’s because they will travel three hours north to take on defending 4A state champion Cocoa in what will be a major challenge.
But for the moment, none of that mattered on Friday night as Luque, McIntosh and and the rest of the team took the opportunity to soak up and enjoy the moment.
“Just a great moment for this program,” said Luque who took over after a 2-8 2013 season when the school de-emphasized athletics following Roger Harriott’s departure prompting most kids to transfer out. “To think we built this thing from the ground up after everyone pretty much bolted and took off is a credit to these players, my coaches and this young man standing right next to me.”
That young man was McIntosh who, when asked how many schools were on the prowl for his services, indicated that it might be easier to name the schools that are “not” after his because it was a shorter list.
“Credit to my o-line tonight,” said McIntosh. “We were gashing their defense pretty good and I had some pretty nice holes to run through.”
When pressed to reveal which school is hounding him the most, McIntosh fessed up – the University of Miami.
And if UM coaches get a tape of McIntosh’s performance on Friday night, they might just camp out on his front doorstep.
After University took a 22-10 lead to the locker room at halftime, Pace (8-2) nipped at the Sharks lead the entire second half. Running back Tyrone Douglas took off on a 76-yard touchdown run on the third play of the second half to make it 22-17 and the remainder of the game turned into a track meet as the Sharks, namely McIntosh, kept scoring and Pace kept returning with its own scores.
McIntosh’s 15 yard scoring run, his fifth touchdown of the night, put the Sharks up 42-32 with 5:49 left in the game to seemingly put things away.
But Douglas, who enjoyed a huge night himself with 182 yards on 16 carries, had one last jaunt left when, just one play after the Spartans converted a fourth-down play, bolted 57 yards for a score with 3:45 left to cut it back to three again.
Facing a third-and-11 at its own 29 and still 2:30 left, it looked like University was going to have to give up the ball and give Pace one last chance.
But there was McIntosh again. Quarterback George Bubrick tossed a swing pass in the right flat to McIntosh who proceeded to juke a pair of Pace defenders and grind out a 13 yard gain for a fresh set of downs. With Pace out of timeouts, the Sharks took knees to seal the win.
“People wonder why he’s up high on ESPN’s list? I guess everyone found out why tonight,” said Luque who was on Harriott’s staff at U. School when it won the state title in 2012. “This kid is the real deal and really special. He could’ve bolted like so many others but here he is, out there helping bring U. School football back to greatness.”
Asked if he was tired and worn down, McIntosh just smiled.
“No way,” he said. “I was ready for overtime if we needed it. This is a great win for us and we’re looking forward to another challenge next week.”