A premature end to last season’s playoffs left a bitter taste in South Dade’s mouth.
One year later, the Buccaneers redeemed themselves in a 37-10 victory over Palm Beach Gardens in the Class 8A state semifinals Friday night at Harris Field.
South Dade will face Apopka in the program’s first trip to the state title game, which also extends South Florida’s dominance. Miami-Dade and Broward have been represented in the final of the largest classification every year since 1990.
“I thought from our conditioning standpoint we needed to get stronger, and it’s something we adopted from January, and we knew we had to work on some of those little things,” South Dade coach Nate Hudson said. “I couldn’t be more proud as a head coach. These guys came out and worked.”
The Buccaneers (12-1) trailed 10-7 with 8:20 left in the second quarter before rattling off 30 unanswered points. Twenty-four of those came in the first half as they took a commanding 31-10 lead.
Senior quarterback Kahlil Render turned in a career performance for South Dade, which scored on four consecutive drives to open the game.
Render, who went 8 of 14 with 217 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, found senior Tarviant Williams on a quick hitch route that caught the defensive back overpursuing. Williams sprinted for a 54-yard touchdown.
South Dade then intercepted senior quarterback JP Caruso on two of the next three drives, converting them into a pair of scores.
Sophomore Khevani Francois caught his first of two touchdowns on Render’s 34-yard strike after senior Mario Mezier’s pick. Following a punt, Render raced 66 yards for a touchdown. Mezier again intercepted Caruso to set up senior Luis Zitzun’s 31-yard field goal before halftime.
Render scored four first-half touchdowns — two through the air and two on the ground — and connected with five receivers. He added a 37-yard touchdown to Francois early in the third to cap the scoring.
“At school [Friday], I visualized everything I was going to do, and I did it,” said Render, who ran 12 times for 139 yards. “I said I was going to put two in the air, and [instead] I threw three touchdown passes.”
Palm Beach Gardens (9-5) took 6 minutes 13 seconds off the clock on its opening possession, a 13-yard, 70-yard drive that culminated with Caruso’s 15-yard touchdown to senior Caleb Perez.
The Buccaneers answered back with an 11-play drive, ending on Render’s 6-yard touchdown run. Though the Gators intercepted Render’s throw and returned it deep into South Dade territory, it settled for senior Steven Olson’s 40-yard field goal.
South Dade, which created five takeaways, last lost Oct. 26 against Killian, the same team that eliminated it in the regional semifinal last year. The Buccaneers have outscored their four postseason opponents, 98-24, including a 13-7 rematch over the Cougars in this season’s regional semifinal.
“I’m speechless right now,” Mezier said. “We have one dream, one goal, and that’s to reach state. That’s it. We’re trying to prove to everybody that we’re [the] best down south.
“We’re the best team. Down south has the best athletes, best DBs, so we just try to come through and represent Dade County.”