Watching their offense struggle terribly in the last quarter and a half, the Champagnat Lions defense knew it was up to them.
Clinging to a 14-7 lead against Lakeland Victory Christian in Friday afternoon’s Class 2A state championship game in the Florida Citrus Bowl, it all came down to one final defensive stop.
And when Victory quarterback Caleb Lewis’ fourth-down pass to Brice Ford in the end zone was broken up by Gerald Robinson Jr. with 38 seconds left, a determined but gassed Champagnat defense had done its job and then some.
With their offense not recording a single first down on its final five possessions, Lion defenders were visibly tired in the mid-afternoon heat as the Storm finally dented the scoreboard with 6:24 left in the contest to cut their deficit in half.
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“We got tired toward the end because it was hot out there but we knew we had enough left to find a way to get it done,” said linebacker Travorie McRae who was all over the field against the Victory offense with 12 tackles (10 solos and 5 tackles for loss) and two sacks. “I played a good game but it was a team effort all the way. We’ve always been about team, not individuals. This really means a lot because we’re only in our fourth year and made history out there today.”
It looked like the Lions attempt at making history was slipping away as the Victory Christian offense, which had just 82 total yards entering the fourth quarter, suddenly sensed their opponent’s fatigue and started moving the ball.
“We had worked too hard for this and just we just weren’t going to allow ourselves to lose it at the end,” said Robinson Jr., who also had a fourth-quarter interception to end a drive that had reached the Lions 26. “We knew the offense was struggling so knew it was up to us to keep the team up and do what we had to do.”
“We told each other, look, we’ve got each other backs. We have to keep being aggressive and tough and just said, enough is enough,” said big 6-4, 320-pound defensive tackle Travonte Valentine, a University of Miami commit who transferred from upstate Palm Bay Bayside after last season. “What a great feeling, the best feeling in the world. A feeling I never thought I would experience.”
“I can’t believe it, our little school on Palm Avenue, we did it, we made history today,” said safety Calvin Foster, who had a second-quarter interception. “If you’re driving too fast, you’ll miss it but I bet you no one will miss us anymore. We’re state champs.”