It turned out to be a triumphant return to the postseason for Monsignor Pace on Friday night.
Making their first playoff appearance since 2010, and hosting Key West, in what was many thought might be a close tightly-fought contest, the Spartans pulled off some old-school Pace style football, rushing for 285 yards and turned in an impressive 31-7 thrashing of the Conchs in a Region 4-4A semifinal contest.
Pace improved to 8-1 and will travel to University School next week for a much-anticipated showdown against the Sharks in a Region 4-4A final. The game will be a rematch from a regular season contest in September that saw University score late and pull out a 27-22 victory at Pace.
“Just a terrific all-round effort tonight by all of the kids on both sides of the ball,” said Pace head coach Joe Zaccheo. “We pounded it from the start and it really felt like the good old days of Pace style football and we appear to be catching our stride at the right time and looking forward to next week.”
Zaccheo watched with total delight as his team set the tone for the night by taking the opening kickoff and driving 67 yards in nine plays without attempting a single pass, Willie Floyd going over from three yards out giving the Spartans a 7-0 lead.
Then, following a three-and-out, Pace did it again, pounding out an 80-yard, 11 play drive (nine rushing plays), Floyd going over again from seven yards out. And just like that, it was 14-0 one minute into the second quarter and Pace never looked back.
“You get two drives like that to start the game and that’s a real tone-setter,” said Zaccheo. “We let them back in the game briefly but always felt like we had things under control.”
Key West put together its only drive of the night just before halftime, scoring on a 21 yard touchdown pass from Alvin Howard to Paton Hummell to cut the Pace lead to 14-7 at the break.
But the Spartans took their first possession of the third quarter and, with the rain coming down, turned in another pound-it-out drive going 53 yards in eight plays without throwing a pass, Thomas Willis going over from six yards out to make it 21-7 with 4:17 left in the third and the Spartans cruised from there.
“Tonight we came out with the mind set that our record was 0-0 and it was a new season and we just wanted to eat,” said Floyd who finished his night with 80 yards on 14 carries and the two scores. “We definitely feel like we’re peaking at the right time as a team,” said Floyd. “At the start of the season, it was a little bit of a struggle, we lost to Doral (Kickoff Classic) and had to work on some things but we’ve got good senior leadership and that’s paying off now.”
But the leader in the clubhouse in the rushing department for the Spartans was Tyrone Douglas who finished with 112 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown.
“Give it up for my o-line tonight, they really did the job,” said Douglas. “I had some really big holes to run through and it just looked easy at times even though it wasn’t. Coach Zach loves to run the ball so we wanted to make him smile tonight and I think we did that.”
As for Key West, it was a bitter and disappointing end to a breakthrough season. One that saw the Conchs overcome the total disruption of a direct hit from Hurricane Irma and find a way to put together a 7-1 regular season to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.