Saturday morning could not have started better for Chaminade-Madonna.
On the first offensive play of its Class 3A state championship game, Shaun Shivers took Henry Colombi’s handoff and was off the races, gliding into the end zone after an 80-yard sprint.
Unfortunately for the Lions, the highlights were few and far between after that.
Jacksonville’s Trinity Christian not only answered Chaminade’s initial touchdown, but it did so time after time in what ended up being a 24-13 victory in a sun-splashed early game at the Citrus Bowl.
“When you’re in the red zone, you need to finish. It’s as simple as that,” said coach Dameon Jones, whose team was forced to kick two field goals after stalling inside the 10.
“Limiting turnovers and red-zone execution help your chances of winning, period.”
The Lions held the lead twice in the game as Daniel Longman’s 23-yard field goal made it 10-7 early in the second.
Yet when Trinity’s Rasheed Martin scored on a 13-yard run just two minutes later, the Conquerors (11-3) took the lead back for good.
“It was wide open,” Shivers said about the opening play. “It was a great feeling when I broke into the open field and we could do that to them on the first play of the game.”
Chaminade’s season started with turmoil as coach Jason Milgrom abruptly quit the Sunday before practice began. Jones, who coached Hallandale to the regional finals last year, stepped in and took the Lions on their first trip to the state championship game in more than a decade.
The Lions won championships in 2003 and 2005 under current Cypress Bay coach Mark Guandolo and are 2-3 in title games dating to 1974.
“I’m proud of this team, proud of Chaminade-Madonna,” said Jones, whose team ended his first season 10-4.
“No one expected us to be here, and we’re here. We fought the three-time defending state champion; now we regroup, come back next year. That’s the goal. We move forward.”
Trinity Christian’s title is its seventh in school history and fourth in a row, making the Conquerors the fifth Florida team to accomplish that feat.
Central and Booker T. Washington joined the four-timer’s club last year but those streaks ended this season, meaning Trinity Christian can become Florida’s first to win five consecutive titles next December.
Martin and quarterback D.J. Matthews were problems for Chaminade all day long.
Following Shivers’ touchdown, Matthews and Isaiah Washington teamed up for a 17-yard score.
Chaminade took advantage of one of two Trinity turnovers in the first half, working into the red zone following Jordan Williams’ interception of Matthews and return to the Trinity 35.
The Lions got to the 8 when Colombi and Josh Ali hooked up for a 14-yard play on third down yet failed to get into the end zone and settled for a kick from Longman and the lead once more.
Down 21-10 at the half, Chaminade came out and moved the ball to the Trinity 24. The Lions went backward from there with Colombi getting dropped for a 10-yard loss on first down, then he pitched on while being dragged down for a 7-yard loss.
Punter Jason Merry mishandled the snap on fourth-and-27 and was tackled at his own 37 – marking a net loss of 39 yards for the Lions after getting a first down outside the red zone.
After the botched punt, Trinity stalled and tried a fake field goal. Although Chaminade’s Tecory Couch scooped up the lateral thrown by holder Jahlon Wilson and raced toward the end zone, officials ruled it an incomplete pass due to Wilson throwing from his knee and already being down.
Had Wilson stood up and thrown the ball, perhaps the call would have gone another way.
“That could have gone either way,” Jones said. “You can’t overturn the refs.”
On the ensuing play, tempers flared as Trinity’s Chase Lasater was ejected after punching offensive lineman Steve Jean-Baptiste. That penalty yardage helped the Lions start at midfield and eventually drive inside the 10.
Once again, however, Chaminade settled for a Longman field goal – this one from 30-yards out – to cut the deficit to eight points at the start of the fourth.
Trinity answered, again, this time with a 52-yard field goal from Frankie Onate following a 5-yard penalty on the Lions on a poor punt.
“We only put up 13 points so we didn’t do enough to win the game,” Colombi said. “It was an exciting start but we knew we had a long way to go.
“We didn’t finish the way we wanted to.”