Flanagan’s transformation is complete.
Directed by its Super Bowl and national championship-winning coach Devin Bush Sr., the Falcons morphed from a team that had never made the playoffs to a state champion over a three-year span, sealing that journey with a 26-7 victory over Kissimmee Osceola in the Class 8A final Saturday night in the Citrus Bowl.
Flanagan’s state title triumph gave the South Florida area at least four state championships for the fourth consecutive season.
“This doesn’t even feel real yet,” said Bush Sr., a Hialeah-Miami Lakes graduate who won a national title in 1993 at FSU and a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams after the 1999 NFL season. “It’s been a long time coming. I love these boys.”
An emotional Bush Sr. let the tears flow as he spoke following the game and later as he shared the moment with his son, Devin Jr., the team’s star linebacker.
A year after an undefeated season came to an abrupt halt with a loss in the state semifinal round to Columbus, the Falcons won the school’s first state football title backed once again by a defense that stifled yet another opponent.
“As a team we believed that we’d make it back here and win it,” Bush Jr. said. “It’s crazy all the ups and downs going on personally, now to win it, this is the best feeling ever.”
Flanagan allowed opponents only 90 points for the entire season (14 games), and fittingly finished Saturday’s game with an interception return for a touchdown by star junior Stanford Samuels III.
“My team needed me for a big play and I came through,” Samuels said. “We always said it was on the defense’s backs to make the big plays. We took accountability for that.”
Flanagan held an Osceola rushing attack that entered the game averaging 380 yards per game to only 209 yards on the ground.
Flanagan did something in the first quarter that it had not done the whole season in the first half of a game — give up a touchdown.
It happened when Osceola’s Malcolm Davidson broke loose for a 45-yard touchdown run.
But Flanagan quickly responded over the rest of the half thanks to quarterback Kato Nelson’s command of the offense.
Nelson, who won a state championship as a sophomore at Champagnat Catholic, completed 16 of 27 passes for 201 yards and threw a pair of touchdown passes to senior receiver Jahcour Pearson. Nelson also ran for 64 yards on 16 attempts.
Osceola totaled 73 of its 111 first-half rushing yards on two plays.
Once Flanagan’s defense adjusted to Osceola’s running game, the Falcons allowed the Kowboys to cross the 50-yard line only twice. The first time ended in a missed field goal. The second ended at Flanagan’s 49 as time expired.
The turning point came before the first touchdown, ironically after Osceola’s Carlos Becker made a leaping interception. Flanagan forced the Kowboys to punt after three plays and gained a short field starting at the Osceola 36. Nelson hit Pearson over the middle on the first play for the tying touchdown.
“That was huge because we took their momentum away,” Bush Sr. said. “They thought they had something and we ripped it away. We just had to be us and we’re the best defense in the country and it showed [Saturday].”