Champagnat quarterback Desjaun Kearse stood proudly with a championship medal draped around his neck following his team’s 24-7 win over Jacksonville University Christian in the Class 2A state championship game on Friday morning at Camping World Stadium.
For Kearse, it was actually his second medal. Two years ago, he was on the roster at Flanagan High School when the Falcons defeated Kissimmee Osceola in the 8A title game.
But this one had an entirely different feel to it for Kearse. That’s because he never even saw the field as a sophomore for the Falcons.
He transferred to Champagnat last summer along with other Falcon teammates Rony Bourdeau and the Gardner brothers Keyshon and Dishon and, after splitting quarterback duties with teammate Kervin Dessources during the regular season, stepped up at the start of the playoffs and emerged as the full time starter.
And it paid big dividends on Friday as Kearse was outstanding, both through the air and on the ground. He completed 9-of-22 passes for 214 yards including a putaway 36-yard touchdown pass to Marc Britt with 2:11 to play while also doing damage with his feet.
Kearse easily finished as the Lions’ leading rusher with 72 yards on 10 carries, the biggest of which being a 20-yarder on a keeper around the right side on fourth-and-one down to the UC 4 with six minutes left in the game that set up a huge field goal giving the Lions a 10-point cushion.
“Just a matter of going out there today and doing what the coaches taught me to do,” said Kearse who wound up with 286 of his team’s 331 total yards. “Two years ago was nice but it was definitely a different feeling today because of the way I was able to contribute on the field instead of watching.”
And in his biggest high school moment, Kearse gave most of the credit for his success to the quarterback he played behind at Flanagan – Cato Nelson.
“He played a big role in my life,” said Kearse of Nelson who emerged as the starting quarterback at Akron this season, leading the Zips to the MAC East title. “Two years ago I watched and I learned from him. He showed me how to read defenses and that when there’s nothing open, not to force anything. To learn to use your legs and that’s what I did out there today.”
It was a year ago that the Lions (9-2) traveled to Orlando to play the same team in the same game but never had a chance, losing 24-8, only avoiding a shutout with a late touchdown. They finished with 107 total yards and turned the ball over five times.
On Friday, the Lions turnover count was right where head coach Dennis Marroquin wanted it – zero. Never even left the ball on the ground once.
“Desjaun really stepped up for us at the end of the year and took over this offense,” said Marroquin. “The difference with him was his ability to stay away from turnovers and you saw that out there today as he did a great job of managing the game and not making any mistakes. He also did a tremendous job especially with his legs which was the difference in the game. He just did a great job.”