Killian knew it would have to replace 22 seniors entering this season.
Then it had to deal with injuries to key players, including juniors Jaquan Johnson and Matthew Colominas.
Then it had leads against North Miami Beach, Coral Reef and Homestead before suffering tough losses.
On Thursday night, the Cougars started the climb back to contention.
With Johnson feeling 100 percent in his third game back, and Colominas back for the first time this season, Killian delivered a tough defensive effort in a 21-7 victory over Coral Gables at Southridge Stadium.
Killian (2-4), which is 0-1 in District 16-8A, still has a chance to recover from its poor start and make a playoff run if it wins its next three games, all of which are against district opponents (Palmetto, South Dade and Southridge).
“We just proved to ourselves that we can finish a game,” Killian coach Corey Johnson said. “Injuries are a part of football. The next man up has to step up and get it done, and that hasn’t been happening. We took a step toward that tonight.”
The Cougars dealt the Cavaliers (5-1), ranked No. 15 in the Miami Herald’s South Florida Top 20 Poll, their first loss of the season after holding their high-powered running game to only 49 yards.
Gables star senior running back Greg Howell ran for 75 yards (only 15 in the first half) on 19 carries and no touchdowns. It was the lowest yardage output of the season for Howell, who entered the week as Miami-Dade County’s leading rusher.
Johnson said Colominas, who sustained a broken fibula on the first day of practice, keyed the team’s effort up front at nose guard.
“That kid [Colominas] without a doubt changes the game for us,” Johnson said. “I just want to say him, welcome home.”
Jaquan Johnson, who was feared to be lost for the season after sustaining a herniated disk at the start of the season, has regained the form that has made him one of the top prospects in the country in the Class of 2015.
Leading 7-0, Killian took the opening drive of the second half and went 80 yards on 11 plays, capping the drive on Johnson’s spectacular one-handed catch in the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown from quarterback Joel Careaga.
“It was a huge catch, and the team needed me because we needed this win,” Jaquan Johnson said. “We’ve been on a losing streak, but we’ve been working hard and we finally executed in this game.”
Careaga completed 10 of 12 passes for 141 yards and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to Jordan Herrera.
Howell finally broke a 29-yard run late in the third quarter that moved Gables into Killian territory. But the Cougars stopped Gables on downs and did so two more times to put the game away.