All season long the Coral Gables football team has relied on its big-play, suffocating defense to pull it through games.
And that’s exactly what it needed on Friday night, as the Cavaliers defense, while it did plenty of bending, never broke in helping to preserve Gables’ 19-14 victory over North Miami in a Region 4-8A quarterfinal at North Miami Stadium.
Led by linebacker Shakur Cooper, the Gables defense harassed North Miami quarterback Hilton Joseph all night long, sacking him 10 times for 68 yards in losses, including an 11-yard loss on a crucial third-down play on one final desperation Pioneer drive that made it to the Gables’ 32 with less than a minute to go.
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On the next play, a fourth-and-14 from the 43-yard line, Kevin Romer picked off a pass to seal the Gables victory and set up a much-anticipated rematch with district rival Columbus in a regional semifinal matchup next Thursday at Tropical Park.
“We didn’t get to be the number one defense in the county by accident,” said Gables coach Roger Pollard, who saw his team improve to 9-2. “They’ve been coming up big for us all year, and even though we gave up a few plays in the first half they did a great job of shutting things down in the second half.”
Pollard watched as the Pioneers moved the ball effectively in the first half to build a 14-6 lead midway through the second quarter on a pair of Joseph touchdown passes to Tavaris Harrison and Henry Payoute.
But the game turned just before halftime when North Miami punter Lewis Joseph mishandled a snap, giving the Cavs the ball at the Pioneer 16.
Two plays later, Voshon Waiters found Shaquery Wilson for a 5-yard scoring pass with 58 seconds left to cut their halftime deficit to 14-12 following a failed two-point conversion.
Gables took a lead it would not relinquish on the third play of the second half when Waiters dropped back and hit Jaylin Clark-McNatte in stride for a 64-yard touchdown pass.
North Miami, which was looking for its first postseason victory since 1991, finished 9-2.