It used to be that the Monsignor Pace Spartans treated the postseason like a birthright. And why not. Between 1991 and 2008, the Spartans made the postseason a then-record 18 consecutive years.
But heading into Friday afternoon’s big rivalry matchup with Belen Jesuit, the Spartans had not tasted the playoffs in seven years.
That all came to an end as the sun set early Friday evening and Pace traveled to Belen and snapped a three-year losing streak against their archrivals, winning back the ceremonial Turkey Bowl Trophy with a 14-0 shutout of the Wolverines.
And with that, Pace is back in the playoffs. With only the top four teams in Region 4-4A making the playoffs, the Spartans entered the day as the No. 3 seed. Even though they might have been able to hang on to the last spot even if they had lost, the Spartans (7-1) took no chances and locked themselves in with the win.
“Discipline, old-school and getting rid of things that weren’t supposed to be here,” said Pace head coach Joe Zaccheo, referring to the fact that he lost a total of nine players who transferred out after last season. “Then it became a matter of bringing in kids that were going to buy into the system, and this is a great moment not only for my coaches but these kids to get something like this done.”
Zaccheo and his players will now wait over the weekend to see if their final point total will be enough to overtake Key West for the No. 2 spot, which would be huge as it would mean they would host Key West in next week’s first round rather than have to travel south to play the Conchs.
At the forefront of Pace’s big win on Friday afternoon was running back/defensive end Willie Floyd.
Floyd, who transferred over along with his brother Lorenzo from a state champion Carol City team over the summer, scored both touchdowns and contributed to a defense that shut down the vaunted Belen rushing attack all day, holding the Wolverines (6-3) to just 145 yards on the ground.
That included sophomore Don Chaney Jr., who needed 136 yards coming into the game to break Belen’s all-time single-season rushing record of 1,275 (set by Jorge Rios in 2004) but held to 84 yards on 13 carries.
Floyd bolted for touchdown runs of 69 and 28 yards in the first half to stake Pace to its 14-point lead at halftime and then let the defense do the rest
“Since day one when we came in here, coach Zach told us that if we worked hard, followed all the rules, and played with discipline and pride, we would be rewarded. And he was right,” said Floyd, who finished his day with 114 yards on 12 carries. “We wanted to do this for coach and do it for us, as well. Now we want to keep this thing going because we’re having too much fun right now.”
Said Zaccheo: “What’s really amazing is that all the transfers we lost in the offseason were mostly on defense, so we had to replace many positions, and that really is a credit to my defensive coordinator Fred Williams and his coaches.”