Cardinal Gibbons coach Matt DuBuc thought Friday night’s Region 4-5A final against rival American Heritage was going to come down to one play.
He was right, and John Alyn made it for the Patriots.
The senior blocked the Chiefs’ extra point on the first possession of the third overtime, and after Anthony Schwartz hauled in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Cam Smith on Heritage’s ensuing possession, Jimmy Lowery kicked the Patriots into the state semifinals.
Final score: American Heritage 58, Cardinal Gibbons 57 in triple overtime in one of the wildest state playoff games Broward County has ever seen.
“It’s hard to beat the same team twice, and that’s the most difficult win I’ve ever been a part of,” said Heritage coach Patrick Surtain, who was selected to three Pro Bowls during his stellar 11-year NFL playing career with the Dolphins and Chiefs.
“I was literally cramping up on the sidelines.”
Heritage, the country’s seventh-ranked team according to MaxPreps, found itself in unfamiliar territory Friday night trailing by 21 points late in the first half.
But the Patriots proved why they’re one of the nation’s best, scoring 35 consecutive points to take a 41-27 lead with 5:55 remaining.
Then, the ball started getting slippery. First a Patriots fumble led to a Nik Scalzo to Lavontae Decius three-yard touchdown pass with 2:30 remaining which made it 41-34. Then, moments later, Gibbons safety Ronald Hardge scooped up another Patriots fumble and returned it 26 yards for the tying score with 2:06 to play.
Smith, who threw for 255 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 63 yards and two more scores, drove Heritage down the field and setup a 39-yard field goal attempt on the final play of regulation. But the Patriots holder bobbled the snap and Heritage never got off the kick, sending the game to overtime.
The teams then traded touchdowns and field goals through the first two overtimes before Vincent Smith scored on a 10-yard touchdown run to put Gibbons ahead 57-51. That set the stage for Alyn to play the role of hero after he made a gaffe earlier game in the game.
“I’m not blaming anybody,” DuBuc said. “We’ve got to block and we’ve got to kick and we didn’t do that on that particular play. It’s frustrating because we work on that stuff a lot. They just made one more play than we did.”
The Chiefs, who lost to Heritage 23-19 at home back Oct. 13, took a 7-0 lead on a 3-yard Davis touchdown run with 8:22 remaining in the opening quarter.
After Heritage answered with a Smith to Schwartz 25-yard touchdown pass to trim Gibbons’ lead to 7-6, Marquis Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards and on the next play Davis found the end zone again to make it 14-6.
That was just the beginning of the night’s wild swings.
The next one started with 3:33 left in half when Gibbons ran a reverse flea-flicker and quarterback Scalzo found Tajai Davis for a 51-yard touchdown pass. Moments later, Gibbons defensive back Sydney Porter blocked a Heritage punt and returned it 16 yards for a score to make it 27-6.
But Heritage, which has won three state titles since 2013, wouldn’t fold. Schwartz, a state champion sprinter, returned the ensuing kickoff 79 yards for a score.
After Gibbons punted and Heritage took over at the Chiefs’ 45 with 38 seconds left in the half, it took just 22 seconds for the Patriots to find the end zone again. This time Smith found 6-5, 185-pound senior received Marcus Lodge in the end zone from 19 yards out and Gibbons’ 21-point lead was down to 27-20 at the half.
Smith then tied the score at 27 on the opening drive of the second half with a quarterback sneak before putting Heritage ahead 34-27 with a seven-yard touchdown pass.
Schwartz, one of the nation’s fastest sprinters and top receivers who has narrowed his college choices down to Florida and Auburn, finished with eight catches for 95 yards for two scores.
“When the ball is in the air, it’s mine,” Schwartz said. “This game is the best I’ve ever played in optimist and high school.”
Heritage (11-0) will host Immokalee (12-0) in the state semifinal next week.