Through two rounds in the playoffs, Westminster Christian had proven it could outlast a team in a defensive struggle and then showed it could outscore a team in a shootout.
The Warriors were back in a defensive struggle with a trip to Orlando on the line in a Class 3A state semifinal on Friday night, but after scoring 55 points against Cardinal Newman in the previous round, they were shut out, falling 7-0 to Clearwater Central Catholic at Harris Field.
Clearwater Central Catholic’s DiQuan Walker took a pitch down the right sideline 23 yards and then dove into the end zone with 35 seconds left for the game-winning touchdown.
“That was the scariest play of my life right there — the scariest play and the greatest play at the same time,” said Walker, a senior committed to Holy Cross who finished with 49 yards on 13 carries. “The scariest because the game’s on the line. You have to hold on to the ball and you have to make a great play at the same time.
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“When I first got the pitch I couldn’t really see anything; it was just a big cluster. Then it opened up, and it was just beautiful.”
The Marauders (11-2) now advance to face Jacksonville Trinity Christian in the Class 3A state title game.
The Warriors (11-2), who reached a state semifinal for the first time since 1985 and missed out on their first trip to a state final since 1973, were convinced Clearwater Central Catholic would run it up the middle and run out the clock for a last-second field goal with under a minute to play in the scoreless tie, but coach John Davis had other plans.
“They’re packing it in, and we felt we could get outside,” Davis said. “I can’t say that I knew we were going to score on that play, but I can say I knew we would get a little bit closer and give ourselves a better chance.”
Added Westminster coach Sedrick Irvin said: “We just had one mistake, one mental [mistake]. They have a good kicker. He’s made 50-yard field goals. I thought that’s what they were playing for, and it just so happens they tried one big play and they got it.”
On the ensuing kickoff, it appeared Jordan Cronkite had a seam that he could break through, but he was tackled by the ankles at the Westminster 34-yard line.
Westminster could never get the passing game going. Boyett, playing the final game of his high school career, went 5 for 18 for 30 yards and the pick.
The Warriors were able to move the ball effectively through Wildcat plays for Jordan Cronkite and Tim Irvin. Cronkite finished with 62 yards on 16 carries while Irvin took six attempts for 57 yards.
Both also contributed defensively. Irvin had an interception in the end zone late in the first half that killed a Marauders drive, and Cronkite had an early sack.
After Irvin’s interception, Westminster drove down the field, but kicker Eli Medder missed wide left on a 37-yard field-goal attempt and what turned out to be the Warriors only true scoring opportunity.
“I’m proud of those guys. We fought. We did the unthinkable,” Sedrick Irvin said. “But now the standard is set. We got to keep working.
“I don’t play with the word ‘love,’ but I told them I love them. I told the seniors, ‘You did this school a pleasure.’”
Westminster only graduates six seniors, and the core outside of Boyett remains intact for 2014.