An explosive first half propelled the Champagnat Catholic Lions (6-2) to the regional finals with a 44-12 victory over St. John Neumann (9-1) at Milander Park on Thursday night.
The win puts the Lions one step closer to making a return trip to Orlando, where they fell in the state championship game last year.
“We knew we had to come our aggressive against a good football team and make sure they didn’t have an opportunity to make a comeback,” Lions Head Coach Dennis Marroquin said. “This is year is all about finishing. Last year we didn’t finish and it hurt a lot.”
The Lions set the tone early with 30 unanswered points coming from big plays on both sides of the ball.
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Champagnat Catholic’s Gregory Rousseau opened up the scoring with a 26-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Desjuan Kearse.
A few minutes later, Rousseau — playing defensive end — sacked Celtics quarterback Jensen Jones in the end zone for a safety.
Defensive lineman Jesus Machado also made a pair of big plays for the Lions, recovering a fumble that lead to Champagnat Catholic touchdown in the first quarter and then intercepting a screen pass and taking it back 60 yards for another score early in the second quarter.
By halftime, the Lions had opened up a 36-6 lead over the Celtics. Wide receiver Johnquai Lewis turned a short pass into 60-yard score on the first play of the second half to trigger a running clock.
The Lions will play the winner of Friday’s Moore Haven and Glades Day regional semifinal game on Nov. 17.