Wearing T-shirts with the phrase, “We are Golden,” and with the number 50 pasted on their helmets, Champagnat Catholic’s football team commemorated its school’s golden anniversary throughout this season.
The lasting keepsakes the Lions really wanted were the medals they failed to earn a year ago when they last visited at Camping World Stadium.
Champagnat earned its redemption Friday afternoon and took home the gold after dispatching Jacksonville University Christian 24-7 in the Class 2A state championship game.
The Lions (9-2) avenged last year’s loss to University Christian and secured the school’s second state title and first since 2013.
“They were here last year and they felt like a different team and they had to finish and they did,” Champagnat coach Dennis Marroquin said.
Champagnat, which made its third appearance in the state finals in five years and in only the seventh year of its program’s existence, became the first Dade private school to win multiple state championships. It was only the fourth all-time along with Gulliver Prep (2000) and Monsignor Pace (2003).
Champagnat denied University Christian (10-3) what would have been its third consecutive state title.
“We were grinding every day in practice from spring to summer,” senior linebacker Donovan Georges said. “That right there was a good rematch, but we showed they couldn’t beat us twice.”
Champagnat’s championship was the culmination of a three-year process of rebuilding the program from scratch after numerous players left following the departure of former coach Mike Tunsil.
Marroquin’s first season in 2015 ended with a 2-7 record.
“It’s tough when you come to a program and you have only five kids sitting in the cafeteria the first day, and only 15 in the spring that year, and 28 in the fall,” Marroquin said. “Now we have 40 every year since, but it was a process. The future is bright and we just want to play on the big stage and we’re here.”
Georges, an FIU commit, and senior Gregory Rousseau, who plans to sign with the University of Miami early on Dec. 20, led Champagnat’s defense, which totaled seven sacks and held University Christian to 233 total yards.
The Lions, who forced 26 turnovers in 10 games leading up to state, didn’t force one until the final play of the game when senior Noah Pierre recorded his team-best fifth interception and returned it the length of the field as time expired. Even though the return was nullified by an inadvertent whistle, Pierre was the only Champagnat player that got to put on more gold when he donned the team’s UM-inspired turnover chain.
Rousseau finished with 2 ½ sacks, Georges had two and Jesus Machado, a highly-sought after senior with offers from Alabama, Georgia and UCF, had 1 ½ sacks.
Champagnat’s offense, however, was the biggest difference from last year’s matchup.
The Lions, who set a state finals record for rushing futility last year with minus-42 yards on the ground, ran for 117 on Friday and totaled 331 yards overall.
The catalyst once again was senior quarterback Desjaun Kearse, who transferred from Flanagan High in the offseason. Kearse accounted for 281 of the Lions’ yards as he passed for 214 and ran for 72.
Kearse’s 36-yard touchdown throw to sophomore Marc Britt moments after a 26-yard field goal by Daryn Jones put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
“We came here to work and handle business and it showed on the field with me and my brothers,” sophomore Johnquai Lewis said.
Lewis, who caught two passes for 81 yards, is one of several sophomores along with Britt that could propel Champagnat to more championships in the coming years.
“We’re grown men out here,” Lewis said. “The [Class of] 2020 guys like me and Britt are doing it on offense and defense, doing whatever our coaches need. Our goal is come back and get another ring and keep doing that until we leave.”
IF YOU GO
What: The 55th state football championships.
When: Through Saturday.
Where: Camping World Stadium, 1 Citrus Bowl Place, Orlando.
Tickets: $12-$17 in advance, $15-$20 at the gate; Parking: $10.
Friday’s results – Class 2A: Hialeah Champagnat Catholic 24, Jacksonville University Christian 7; Class 5A: Plantation American Heritage 44, Baker County 15; Class 6A: Miami Northwestern vs. Seffner Armwood, inc.
Saturday’s games – Class 3A: Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna vs. West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy, 10 a.m.; Class 7A: Venice vs. St. Johns Bartram Trail, 3; Class 8A: Delray Beach Atlantic vs. Orlando Dr. Phillips, 8.
Thursday’s results – Class 1A: Madison County 35, Blountstown 20; Class 4A: Jacksonville Raines 13, Cocoa 10.