Hialeah High coach Denoff Johnson had been begging the school to field a flag football team since 2007. Though it took nearly a decade, the inaugural season has been a memorable one.
Sophomore quarterback Ja’Keira Betties, Johnson’s starting point guard on the girls’ basketball team, scored three touchdowns as the Thoroughbreds beat Miami High 20-6, in the Region 4-2A final at Hialeah High Athletic Field.
Hialeah (13-3) becomes the first Miami-Dade public school to reach state in the sport. The Thoroughbreds will play the winner of Coral Springs and Seminole Ridge in the state semifinal Friday in Tampa.
“We talked about having the opportunity to do something first,” said Johnson, who played flag football in college. “They had a chance to be immortal, for lack of a better term, and they accepted that challenge.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Hialeah went ahead 20-0 by halftime. Betties connected with freshman receiver Brianna Sweeting for an 11-yard touchdown. On the ensuing Miami High drive, Betties picked off Jeri Richard and returned the ball to the 1-yard line. Three plays later, Betties found the end zone on a run. Betties threw her second touchdown pass to sophomore Malikah Campbell from 2 yards out on Hialeah’s final drive of the half.
Miami High (13-1) tried mounting a fourth-quarter rally, but it was too late. Campbell rushed for a 3-yard touchdown to cut the deficit.
Johnson was able to put together a Hialeah team with five of his basketball players, seven soccer players, a volleyball player and two cheerleaders. Betties, who needed no convincing to join the team, knew all along she was going to be the quarterback. As a point guard, she is used to being a field general.
“Just got to lead the team, get the energy going,” Betties said. “If you’re confident, everybody else will be confident. “
▪ Region 3-2A Final - Seminole Ridge 47, Coral Springs 0: After only narrowly beating Park Vista in last week’s playoff opener, defending state champion Seminole Ridge was determined to deliver a statement.
Facing Coral Springs in the Class 2A regional finals, the Hawks scored on their first seven possessions, routing the visiting Colts 47-0. With the victory, Seminole Ridge advances to Friday’s state semifinal in Tampa, where it will face Hialeah.
“We really got a wake-up call from Park Vista,” Seminole Ridge coach Scott O’Hara said. “We were very fortunate to move on from that game. I think we learned some things about never taking anything for granted and the girls were ready to play tonight. I think we felt like we had a lot to prove.”
The Hawks (15-0) pounced on the Colts from Tuesday’s opening whistle. On the first possession, Seminole Ridge marched downfield with senior quarterback Madeline Harding hitting Yazmin Salguero for a 25-yard touchdown strike to put the Hawks up 7-0.
After a Coral Springs punt, Ridge’s offense went back to work, as Harding continued to pick apart the Colts’ secondary with pin-point precision. The Hawks took a double-digit advantage as Harding connected with Savannah Martinez down the seam for a 21-yard TD pass to extend the lead to 14-0 with 4:05 left in the first quarter.
Following another forced three-and-out by the Ridge defense, Harding continued her highlight-reel performance, hitting Kristi Kemper in stride down the right sideline for a 72-yard score. Harding followed that up with scoring passes on the team’s ensuing two possessions to give Ridge a commanding 34-0 lead in the second quarter. Harding finished with five touchdown passes, with four going to different receivers.
“She made it look effortless and that’s what she does every day in practice,” said O’Hara. “She’s amazing the way she sees the whole field and has just done an outstanding job for us all year and played phenomenal tonight.”
The Hawks now set their sights on the state tournament, where they’ll look to capture the school’s fifth championship in the past seven years.
“After last week, people were beginning to question how far we would go in states,” said Harding. “Whether or not we had what last year’s team had and we definitely made a statement today and proved that we did.”
▪ Region 4-1A Final — Coconut Creek 7, Edison 0: With a trip to the state semifinals on the line, Ambresha Long decided to switch positions.
Lining up at wide receiver, Coconut Creek’s star senior quarterback caught the game-winning 35-yard touchdown as the Cougars defeated Miami Edison to capture the Class 1A regional title.
“Ambresha told me to put her at receiver and she’d go up and get it,” Coconut Creek coach Robert Carradine said.
Carradine called for a one-person route, just Long, and backup QB Anari Dozier launched the pass into triple coverage. Long snatched the ball for the score, also netting the Cougars a berth in Friday’s state semifinals in Tampa.
Long, who’s totalled more than 50 TDs on the season — passing, running and receiving — also led the stingy Creek defense with two interceptions.
“She’s carried us all year, and today was no different,” said Carradine.
Edison came into Tuesday’s regional final 11-0 in the school’s first year fielding a flag football team.
The Cougars (16-0) will face St. Cloud Harmony at Robinson High School on Friday afternoon. Harmony beat Fort Pierce Westwood 12-6 in overtime Tuesday night.