High School Sports

Southridge’s bid for back-to-back state titles hinges on offensive production

Southridge’s Mark Pope (3) scores a touchdown in the first quarter as Belen Jesuit School hosts Southridge High on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017.
Southridge’s Mark Pope (3) scores a touchdown in the first quarter as Belen Jesuit School hosts Southridge High on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. adiaz@miamiherald.com

It didn’t really come in bunches until the second half on Friday afternoon.

But it was the offensive outburst that Southridge has been missing, and very likely needs to produce more often if it wants to hoist the Class 8A state championship trophy once more.

The Spartans built a 28-point lead in the fourth quarter and held off a late push by Belen Jesuit to beat the host Wolverines 35-14 in a Region 4-8A quarterfinal.

“We know what a disciplined team they are so we wanted to get that first touchdown early,” Southridge coach Billy Rolle said.

Southridge (6-3) squared off against Belen (6-4) in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in the past four years and won for the second consecutive time.

Southridge has won three state championships, but never in back-to-back seasons.

The Spartans hope to take another step toward that goal next Friday when they host Miami High at 7:30 p.m. at Southridge in the regional semifinal round.

Southridge’s offense had been struggling in recent weeks, which proved costly in its 14-7 loss on Oct. 27 to South Dade. That defeat propelled the Spartans into a three-way tiebreaker for the District 16-8A title that Palmetto won based on strength of schedule points under the state’s new playoff qualifying format.

After dropping to the No. 6 seed in the region, Southridge was forced to hit the road for its early afternoon tilt with Belen on Friday.

But the 1 p.m. kickoff did little to slow down an offense led by Darren Davis, Jr., who scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.

Rolle credited quarterback Michael Cox for his improved play as well.

Cox threw a pair of touchdown passes — one each to his University of Miami-committed wide receivers Mark Pope and Daquris Wiggins.

“That was big because we’ve been coming short a lot on offense,” Rolle said. “Getting Michael going was big. He got his reads right and he got us a cushion. And then our defense just kept grinding.”

Belen Jesuit (6-4), in its first season under new coach Eddie Delgado, who took over for longtime coach Rich Stuart, was eliminated in the first round for the third consecutive season.

The Wolverines nearly made things close in the fourth quarter thanks to a pair of successful onside kicks.

The first came after a 19-yard touchdown run by sophomore Don Chaney Jr. that cut Southridge’s lead to 28-7 with just under nine minutes left. The second followed another touchdown by Chaney from 20 yards out.

But Belen couldn’t get any closer as senior cornerback Traquan Butler picked off a pass and returned it 60 yards for a game-sealing touchdown.

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