A 0-4 start for Ely seems like eons ago as the Tigers are entering the playoffs rolling on a four-game winning streak capped by a 50-0 trouncing of Dillard in the Soul Bowl at Lockhart Stadium Saturday night.
Laderrick Smith returned the opening kickoff 98 yards and Nelson Ervin hit Edward Walker for an 18-yard touchdown pass in the first six minutes of the game as Ely jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
The Panthers’ seven-game winning streak was snapped emphatically, but Dillard (7-3) will host Carol City next Friday in a regional quarterfinal matchup. Ely (5-5) will host West Boca.
Everything that could go wrong for Dillard did. Quarterback Lee Martin threw four interceptions and lost a fumble in the first half.
Ervin then hit Therrel Gosier for an 11-yard touchdown pass which gave Ely a 37-0 lead with 10:22 to play in the third quarter.
Eddie Kennedy had three interceptions for the Tigers and Gary Bright had two, including one that he returned for a touchdown that made it 27-0 in the second quarter. Dillard committed eight turnovers in all.
Kennedy’s third interception stopped Dillard’s first scoring attempt early in the third quarter. After Collins completed a 57-yard pass to Dennis Turner that got the Panthers to the two-yard line, Kennedy intercepted a tipped pass to end the threat and keep the game at 37-0.
Terry McCray returned a blocked punt 50 yards to make it 44-0 and Tyquan Fields finished the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
The Raiders (28-2) will face Oviedo on Thursday in Orlando in an attempt to reach the state championship match for the second year in a row.
“Losing that state finals is all that’s been on our minds since the season started,” St. Thomas coach Lisa Zielinski said of the Raiders’ defeat to Venice a year ago. “Our mentality has been, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ ”
Kimeyo Bennett led the Raiders with 14 kills, followed by Nikki Lyons and Emma Dixon with 12 each.
St. Thomas appeared headed for another dominating sweep after taking the first set handily (25-13), but the Eagles – making their deepest playoff run in school history – responded with a surge to start the second the second set, opening to an 8-2 lead to the delight of the home crowd.
Atlantic (22-7), with three freshmen in the starting lineup, eventually weathered the Raiders’ attempt for a rally and the Eagles evened the match at 1-1 on a kill by freshman Bailey Myott. It was the Raiders’ first set loss in the state playoff series.
“We got caught by surprised,” Raiders senior co-captain Alliyah McBean. “We thought we would chill, based on the results of that first game, but that wasn’t the case.”
St. Thomas, nonetheless, regrouped to take control of set 3, building a 20-13 cushion before closing off the set on an Emma Dixon tip off a Mackenzie Zielinski tip to take the 2-1 lead in sets.
In the fourth set, the Raiders took an 8-1 lead following Lyons’ service winner and never looked back, closing out the match on a Dixon kill.
The visiting Sharks (20-1) saw their unbeaten run come to an end in a loss to the two-time state semifinalists in the Class 2A regional finals. It was Divine Savior’s first postseason experience after the Doral school competed as an independent in 2012.
Sheridan Hills (20-4) advanced to face Foundation Academy of Winter Garden Friday at the state tournament in Kissimmee.
It will be a rematch of last year’s state semis, which the Sharks lost in three games. But coach Debbie Rantin knows she’s taking a different team this year.
“These girls are a lot more cohesive than we were last year,” she said. “They are a lot better at playing their game and staying calm.”
Sheridan Hills senior captain Caitlin McCluskey paced the hosts with 14 kills and eight digs, including an ace on the final point.
Nikki Colonna had 16 kills and 25 assists, and Caroline Sklaver finished with 19 kills, 32 assists and three blocks to lead the Raiders (28-3). Sklaver also had the match-clinching kill as she snuck the ball past the Chaminade front row that gave Ransom issues in the third and fourth games of the match.
Shanower got the answer he wanted as the Falcons traveled to West Broward and methodically dispatched the Bobcats in straight games to advance to the state final four in Kissimmee. Ferguson will take on Orlando Olympia or Lake Mary on Thursday.
“We didn’t know much about [West Broward] so we just focused all week on serving tough in an effort to try and run them out of their system passing,” said Shanower who is making his second trip to state with the Falcons having made it there in 2009. “I thought losing to Lourdes in the district final was actually a good thing for us and really made us work that much harder having to go on the road in regionals. I kept that district runnerup trophy right next to the court every day during practice to remind them of that loss to Lourdes.”
Ferguson (24-6) was led by freshman sensation Michelle Cuervo, who enjoyed a huge afternoon recording 23 kills and 11 digs.
Gabriela Beverly (7 kills, 3 digs), Annika Reczeck (14 kills, 4 blocks, 6 digs), Sophie Serrano (16 assists, 4 digs) and Alexandra Reczeck (16 digs) also shined for the Falcons.
“I’m so proud of our team, we worked so hard all year to get to this point,” said Cuervo. “Making it to state was our goal and now we’ve reached it but we want to try and take it all the way now.”
Alexi Deane (10 kills, 3 blocks, 6 digs), Cassidy Bonito (25 assists, 7 digs) and Alexandria Hawkins (10 digs) led the way for West Broward which finished 19-8.
•Archbishop McCarthy 3, Venice 2:
Alexa Rivera goal. Olivia Reese goal. Adrianna Cabeza goal. Yari Bradfield assist. Adriana Robles assist. Abby Ribas assist. AMC 7-0.