Saturday marked the first time ever that Miami-Dade and Broward County high school football teams celebrated state championships on the same day.
Two of the nation’s top 20 teams, Miami Booker T. Washington and Fort Lauderdale University School, opened up what is already a historic season for South Florida high school football and could get more memorable this coming weekend.
Booker T. Washington, ranked 18th nationally by MaxPreps and 21st by ESPN, completed its year-long journey of redemption with a convincing victory over Jacksonville Bolles, the state’s most decorated program with 11 previous championships.
And University School, ranked No. 7 nationally by MaxPreps and No. 10 by ESPN, completed its rise to elite status in Broward with a comeback win over another one of the state’s best (Madison County).
Three more teams — Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Miami Central and Weston Cypress Bay — are headed to Orlando this week with hopes of giving the area five state championships, which would break the record for most in one season for South Florida. The previous record was three set in 2003 (Carol City, Miami Monsignor Pace, Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna) and 2007 (Booker T. Washington, Miami Northwestern, St. Thomas Aquinas).
Counting Miami Dade Christian’s runner-up finish in Class 2A, six South Florida teams will have played for state titles in the same year, surpassing the record of four finalists the area had each of the past two seasons.
Booker T. Washington won its second state title, joining Coral Gables (four), Carol City (four), Northwestern (four) and Miami Southridge and Miami Norland (two each) as the only Dade schools in the playoff era (beginning in 1963) to win multiple state titles.
Central (11-2) can join that group this weekend.
The Rockets will make their third consecutive trip to state — matching Northwestern’s Dade-record run of state appearances from 2006 to 2008 — and try to win their second state title in the past three seasons. Central rallied to beat Naples 48-33 on Friday in the state semifinals.
The Rockets’ final hurdle will be a difficult one. Central takes on Gainesville (13-0) in the Class 6A championship at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Purple Hurricanes, ranked No. 16 by ESPN, are making their first appearance since 1980, when they won their lone state title.
Broward County could have more than one state champion in the same season for the first time.
St. Thomas Aquinas (12-2), its most successful program, will get the first crack at it Friday at 7 p.m. when it takes on Tallahassee Lincoln in the Class 7A championship game.
Lincoln (12-1) will try to win its fourth state title and second in three seasons. The teams have met once in the state finals, with Lincoln beating St. Thomas in the Class 4A final in 2001.
St. Thomas cleared a major hurdle Friday with arguably the biggest upset of the season nationwide. The host Raiders knocked off Bradenton Manatee, the nation’s consensus top-ranked team, 35-18. St. Thomas is chasing its seventh state title, which would move it into a tie with Belle Glade Glades Day, Jacksonville University Christian and Tallahassee North Florida Christian for second on the state’s list.
Cypress Bay (12-2) makes its finals debut when it takes on Apopka (12-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Class 8A. The Lightning dominated Miami Columbus at home in a 33-13 semifinal victory Friday.
Although the 10-year old school is a newcomer at the state meet, Cypress Bay is directed by veteran coach Mark Guandolo, who became the first coach in state history to guide three different schools to the state finals (along with Southridge and Chaminade-Madonna).
Orlando-area Apopka is expected to draw the largest crowd of the weekend. The Blue Raiders are making their first state appearance since 2001, when they beat Northwestern for their lone state title.