Dade Christian was a veteran-laden team sporting one of the few remaining undefeated records in Miami-Dade County with a week left in the 2012 regular season.
The 2013 version of the Crusaders looks a lot different with 16 seniors gone from their state runner-up squad.
But Dade Christian’s gritty, young group has battled through a tough schedule that has included five opponents from larger classifications.
And Thursday, the Crusaders earned a chance to attempt another run to Orlando.
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Led by its defense, which allowed zero points in the final three quarters, Dade Christian rolled past Barrington Christian 37-6 at Harris Field to secure the runner-up playoff berth in District 8-2A.
The Crusaders (5-4, 3-1) advanced to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
“We kind of like no one really [was] talking about us this season because in recent years it’s been the opposite,” Dade Christian coach Mike Sonneborn said. “The group we had last year won a lot of games. We had to make adjustments and really coach a young team for the first time in a while.”
Led by seniors Victor Young, Isaac Pryce, who recovered a fumble that led to a touchdown, and Justin Wiggins’ 32-yard interception return for a touchdown, the Crusaders outscored the Falcons 30-0 in the second half.
Senior quarterback Dillion Vallejo scored two rushing touchdowns and threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Johnnie Santiel to begin the second-half surge. A 58-yard catch and run by Tim McIntosh set up Vallejo’s second score, giving the Crusaders a 20-6 lead late in the third quarter.
Dade Christian allowed less than 50 yards in the second half.
“We’ve gotten better every week, and we’ve played some tough teams,” Sonneborn said. “From that standpoint, we’re very happy with the way the kids have developed.”
With few returning starters this season, Sonneborn shifted his team’s offense back to the Wing-T formation, allowing his players to run a simpler offense until they gained more experience.
Dade Christian responded with a solid mix of runners led by Pryce and Ike Steadman, and it has become more balanced in recent weeks with Vallejo’s timely passing.
The Crusaders finish the regular season next week against Westland Hialeah before likely traveling to Belle Glade to play Glades Day in the Region 4-2A semifinals. Should Dade Christian advance, a rematch with district champion and unbeaten Champagnat Catholic is a possibility. Dade Christian lost the first meeting 16-6.
“I’m excited about this team and the direction we’re headed no matter what happens,” Sonneborn said. “We have 17 starters returning next season, and we played Champagnat [the first time] without four of our starters. If we can stay healthy, all we want is a chance to play them again.”