North Miami football coach Ed Williams doesn’t consider himself a big risk-taker.
He prefers to win with defense and sound execution on offense. But clinging to a two-point lead late in the fourth quarter Friday night against rival North Miami Beach, Williams decided it was time to roll the dice.
He won big. Williams dialed up a screen play on a fake punt from the NMB 45-yard line, and when senior Jackson Denis found junior Tavaris Harrison wide open in the flat, all Harrison had to do was follow his blockers into the end zone.
The touchdown — followed by an interception by linebacker Quentin Moore with under two minutes to play — sealed a 23-14 come-from-behind victory as the Pioneers (5-0, 2-0 in District 13-8A) recaptured the Innercity Rivalry Trophy and took a huge step toward their first playoff berth since 1999.
“I’m not a gambler, but I knew we needed a play,” Williams said. “It was something I put in when I looked at the film and saw what they were doing on punt block. I was just waiting for the right time. I didn’t want to give up field position or anything. Once we got that field position I knew it was time.”
NMB led 14-3 after one quarter and had all the momentum after senior Cedric Wiggins returned an interception 21 yards for a touchdown and followed it up with a 26-yard TD pass to Dave Garcon.
But with 7:08 remaining in the first half, North Miami senior Eric Meadows — the only Pioneers player who starts on offense and defense — intercepted an errant pass from Wiggins and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.
“I just dropped back in my zone and did what my coach told me to do and I made a play happen,” Meadows said. “It was just lovely. I’ve never gotten to do that for my team before.”
After NMB’s ensuing drive stalled inside the North Miami 30, the Pioneers took advantage of several Chargers penalties and marched right down the field on their next possession, capping it with the go-ahead 17-yard touchdown run by Duane Hill. North Miami went into the half up 16-14.
NMB (2-5, 1-1) drove right down the field to start the second half and got to the North Miami 1-yard line. But on fourth and goal, junior defensive end Markes Scott applied pressure and forced Wiggins’ pass into the end zone to fall harmlessly incomplete.
The Chargers, who outgained North Miami 298 to 172, put themselves into position to take the lead with 10:32 remaining. But a 34-yard field goal attempt by Christian Mercado sailed wide left.
“Defense always championships,” Williams said. “I’ve been instilling that from Day 1. My kids have done everything I’ve asked them to. I’m excited and proud of them right now.”