Southwest alumni from as far back as the 1960s showed up to Tropical Park Thursday night hoping to see their Eagles make school history.
But as it has done very often during its longtime rivalry, Coral Gables denied Southwest victory and this time regular-season perfection.
Led by its defense, which posted three interceptions and shut out the Eagles in the second half, Coral Gables dealt Southwest its first loss of the season 31-24 in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Quarterback Dijion Smith threw for 243 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 59 yards and one more touchdown to lead the Cavaliers (9-1), who open the playoffs next Thursday at Tropical Park against Hialeah.
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Antiwone Johnson caught two of those touchdown passes and finished with six catches for 123 yards.
Mark Wynn had two interceptions, and he and Andrew Spence each had one in the second half to beat the Eagles (9-1) and deny them what would have been their first 10-0 season in school history. Southwest was also vying to beat Coral Gables three consecutive seasons for what would have been the first time in the series history.
“Those guys [at Southwest] were undefeated for a reason and they do a great job,” Coral Gables coach Roger Pollard said. “Our defense played aggressive and we buckled up and started playing some football in the second half.”
Southwest quarterback Dre Pickett-White ran for a 71-yard touchdown and threw a pair of touchdowns in the first half to Brian Paez, at one point giving the Eagles a 14-3 lead.
But Coral Gables methodically rallied as its defense held and its running game — even while resting star Gregory Howell for most of the second half — took control. Sophomore Mike Keino ran for 127 yards on seven carries. His longest — a 75-yarder — set up Smith’s 5-yard go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Southwest had a chance to tie the game with a minute remaining. But Gables’ pressure defense swarmed and sacked Pickett-White forcing fourth and 33 at the Gables 38. A desperation pass was intercepted by Wynn to end the threat.
“Keino’s been working his tail off and listening to everything [Howell] has been telling him,” Pollard said. “He loves this game and it’s paying dividends.”