They were disregarded as contenders even before the season began.
Their resolve was tested nearly every week on a difficult path back to Orlando.
And their final obstacle Saturday night in the Citrus Bowl was nearly too much to overcome.
Booker T. Washington’s football dynasty endured.
Thanks to an incredibly resilient first-half effort by their defense, the Tornadoes rallied for a 43-23 victory over Jacksonville Raines to secure the Class 4A state championship in front of a crowd of 4,280.
“Believing was the word for us,” said Booker T. coach Earl Tillman, who has spent 13 seasons coaching at the school but won his first state title as the team’s head coach. “There was a lot of adversity through this season. These kids fought through it all. No matter what, they came to practice week in and week out and competed.”
In its fifth consecutive state finals appearance, Booker T. Washington (9-5) became the first Miami-Dade County team to win four consecutive state titles and only the third statewide in the playoff era (began in 1963) along with Live Oak Suwannee (1987-1990) and Tallahassee North Florida Christian (1998-2001). Miami Central can become the fourth if it beats Seffner Armwood next Saturday in the Class 6A final.
Booker T. also became the first team statewide with at least five losses to win a state title since Jefferson County in 2011.
And much like their topsy-turvy season which had its share of setbacks, Booker T. Washington simply found a way to win its fifth state title overall.
The Tornadoes’ defense symbolized the team’s resilience, spending the majority of the first half bailing out their turnover-prone offense long enough for it to find its rhythm just enough in the second half.
Booker T. turned the ball over five times as freshman Daniel Richardson — Dade’s leading passer — couldn’t find any rhythm. Richardson threw three interceptions and the Tornadoes fumbled twice. Booker T. had nine first downs for the game and six touchdowns.
But despite the horrible start, Richardson threw three touchdown passes in the second half, each time to give Booker T. the lead. Richardson completed 11 of 25 passes for 212 yards, with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
During Booker T.’s 16-game playoff winning streak, its quarterbacks have thrown 42 touchdown passes.
Richardson’s 92-yarder to Gustavious Dames gave the Tornadoes the lead for good and broke a state-championship-game record for the longest such play. The score started a stretch of 21 unanswered points that helped the Tornadoes seal the win.
Booker T. stopped Raines five times inside the 20 and four times after the Vikings (12-2) had moved past the 10-yard line.
During that span, Raines scored only three points.
“We just told the offense to give us one [score] and we got this,” Booker T. senior Dedrick Mackey said.
Senior Marquis Decius’ 100-yard interception return for a touchdown gave Booker T. its only first half score prior to Raines’ field goal.
Raines held possession for 19 minutes and 39 seconds in the first half. Booker T. had the ball only four minutes and 21 seconds.
Raines ran 47 plays to only 15 run by Booker T. Washington in the first half.
And yet at halftime, Booker T. trailed only 10-7.
Decius made another huge play in the second half.
After a catch and run by Raines receiver Bishop Bonnett, Decius stripped him of the ball. The fumble was plucked out of the air by Myron Morris, who then returned it 81 yards for a touchdown to put Booker T. ahead 36-23. The Tornadoes added another defensive score when Braden Tobar recovered the ball after Raines quarterback August DeBiase was hit and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown.
Few including former Tornadoes coaches Tim “Ice” Harris and Tim Harris Jr., who were both in attendance along with recently-hired University of Miami coach Mark Richt, could argue that this year’s state championship team faced more adversity than its predecessors.
A squad that did not win back-to-back games all season, graduated stars such as Mark Walton, Antonio Callaway and Maurice Alexander, and lost numerous other talented players that transferred to other schools, took over Saturday’s championship game in the second half.
“Our determination all season came from our coaches,” Decius said. “We didn’t want to let them score or do anything on offense. We promised that to ourselves and we came through.”
BTW-Decius 100 interception return (Borregales kick)
RAI-FG Patterson 25
RAI-Patterson 36 pass from DeBiase (Patterson kick)
BTW-T. Johnson 10 pass from Richardson (Borregales kick)
RAI-Holt 9 interception return (kick failed)
BTW-Scott 46 pass from Richardson (Flanders pass from Richardson)
RAI-Storey 25 pass from DeBiase (Patterson kick)
BTW-G. Dames 92 pass from Richardson (Scott pass from Richardson)
BTW-Morris 81 fumble return (kick failed)
BTW-Tobar 59 fumble return (Borregales kick)
Rushing (att-yds) -- RAI:Rutledge 24-147, Bonnett 2-52, DeBiase 15-32, Wells 4-11, Marshall 4-9, Wright 2-6, TEAM 1-(-1). BTW: Richardson 1-(-3), Scott 1-4, Nelson 4-7, Hammett 5-41, Johnson 9-41.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- RAI:DeBiase 18-31-227-2. BTW: Richardson 11-25-4, 212.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- RAI:Rutledge 6-52, Wright 3-23, Patterson 2-65, Storey 2-46, Wells 2-16, Bonnett 1-11, Rivers 1-9, Kidd 1-5. BTW: Flanders 1-(-6), Nelson 1-0, Johnson 2-20, Dames 2-98, Scott 5-100.
Football state finals
When/where: Friday-Saturday; The Citrus Bowl, Orlando.
Admission: $12 per session, $10 parking.
Friday’s results: Class 2A — Jacksonville University Christian 61, Tampa Cambridge 16; Class 1A — Trenton 56, Port St. Joe 21.
Saturday’s results: Class 3A — Jacksonville Trinity Christian 30, Delray American Heritage 3; Class 4A — Booker T. Washington vs. Jacksonville Raines, inc.
Next Friday: Class 5A — Orlando Bishop Moore (13-1) vs. Crawfordville Wakulla (13-1), 1:07; Class 7A — Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (12-1) vs. Viera (10-4), 7:07.
Next Saturday: Class 6A — Miami Central (11-2) vs. Seffner Armwood (14-0), 1:07; Class 8A — Pembroke Pines Flanagan (11-2) vs. Kissimmee Osceola (13-1), 7:07.