Plantation American Heritage played one of the toughest schedules of any South Florida football team this season.
Its state championship-clinching victory, however, came without a challenge.
Led by junior quarterback Torrance Gibson’s 315 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns each by senior tailback Sony Michel and junior receiver Isaiah McKenzie, American Heritage routed Green Cove Springs Clay 66-8 in the Class 5A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl.
American Heritage (14-1) secured its first-ever state championship in what was its first trip to the state finals since 1998.
The Patriots’ 66 points was the fifth-highest scoring output in state finals history and largest ever at state by a Broward County team.
“This was the biggest game in our school’s history so we wanted to start fast and finish strong,” American Heritage coach Mike Rumph said. “I’m so proud of our kids and our staff. We stuck together and fought through it.”
Following an opening week loss to national powerhouse Miami Central, the Patriots finished the season on a 14-game winning streak.
That surge included five regular-season victories against eventual playoff teams — including Class 4A finalist Jacksonville Bolles and Class 6A state semifinalist Daytona Beach Mainland.
During the playoffs, the Patriots beat their five opponents by a combined score of 255-78 — scoring 41 points or more in every game.
Clay (10-5) arrived in Orlando following a wild playoff run that included a one-point victory against Jacksonville Bishop Kenny in a game that had a combined 147 points. The Blue Devils’ fans appeared even more confident than their team chanting “overrated” to the Heritage players as they were being introduced.
But from the game’s first play, American Heritage looked superior in terms of speed and skill.
Gibson kept the ball on an option run and rumbled 78 yards untouched to the end zone to begin a 20-point first quarter and 40-point first half.
Gibson completed 9 of 10 passes for 161 yards and threw two touchdown passes. He also ran for a game-high 154 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts.
“We had to play our game from the beginning and not worry about their [Clay’s] level,” Gibson said. “That’s what we’ve done all season.”
The talent disparity was evident during two incredible plays in which American Heritage turned what seemed like a negative into a highlight-reel worthy positive.
“We watched the film and all throughout the playoffs there were games in which we had an advantage in terms of speed,” Rumph said. “I’ve only won one championship in my career and that was 2001 at the University of Miami. This is right up there with it. This is a huge moment in my life.”
Isaiah McKenzie, who returned a punt for a 65-yard touchdown in the third quarter, had an even more impressive return in which he caught the ball over his shoulder at his own 34, ran backward to his own 6 and then zoomed back up field before he was tackled at Clay’s 4-yard line.
McKenzie, a Notre Dame commitment, finished the season with six kick returns and said after the game he had his grandmother, who raised him, on his mind.
“She saw it on TV,” said McKenzie, who had two kick returns highlighted on ESPN this season. “And I put on a show.”
Gibson, a left-handed thrower, delivered the other one late in the second quarter when he rolled out to his left then turned and ran across the field to his right, stopped and fired a pass across his body 34 yards into the corner of the end zone where Dredrick Snelson jumped and hauled it in for a touchdown. Snelson’s catch was impressive in its own right as he kept one foot in and caught it despite good coverage.
“The play broke down and I had to make a play whether it goes bad or good,” Gibson said. “I did something like that in eighth grade. I’m just proud of it.”
Leading 40-0 at halftime, Heritage continued the onslaught when junior Tavarus McFadden returned the opening kickoff of the second half 86 yards for a touchdown. It was McFadden’s third kick return for a touchdown of the season.
Michel, a University of Georgia commitment and Broward County’s all-time career leading rusher, finished with 98 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries.
Rumph called a timeout with 4:55 left in the third quarter to give Michel a curtain call. His teammates, coaches and fans all gave him an ovation as he walked to the sideline.
“We were very happy for Sony and all our seniors,” Gibson said. “Sony’s been doing his thing since eighth grade and it’s great for him to go out like that.
“We’re very happy and we’re just going to soak up this feeling. I spoke to all the players and in the offseason we put in the work and kept grinding.”