They’re lovable losers no more.
As the sun began to set on Ives Estates Park early Thursday evening, players from the Westland Hialeah football team celebrated in such wild fashion, they hardly knew what to do or how to go about doing it.
There was a good reason. That’s because they had just done something they had not done in nearly five years: Win.
A 47-game losing streak, a state record that was just set two weeks ago surpassing Tampa Leto’s 46, didn’t reach 48 following the Wildcats 6-0 victory over Mourning High School.
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A team that had been outscored 2,014-51 in the process including a humiliating 86-0 loss to Doral two weeks ago and whose last win dated back to Oct. 4, 2013, finally experienced something some thought might never happen. And Mourning, a program that has also been struggling for recent years, may have been their last chance to win this season or the streak may have reached 54.
After three-and-half quarters of offensive struggles for both sides, Westland scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper by Dairon Medina with 6:17 left in the game that they made stand up.
Appropriately, it was two-way player Josue Castro who sealed the deal running for a pair of long runs from his slot back position to produce first downs in the final three minutes that allowed the Wildcats to run out the rest of the clock.
Appropriate because Castro is a senior and one of only three players on the roster to have been on the team since ninth grade, meaning he was 0-33 coming into the game.
“What an absolutely incredible feeling right now,” said Castro. “All of this hard work and dedication finally paid off.”
Castro was then asked about how tough it had been on him and his teammates, including Samuel Otano and Javier Amaya, the other two four-year players, during this long and brutal stretch of losing.
“Everybody would always tell us that we were nothing,” Castro said as his voice began to crack with emotion. “They made fun of us on social media and it was tough, real tough. But today we went and showed them that we are something. Not everything in life is easy, we got beat down by everybody and now I think the character we’ve developed we will take on for the rest of our lives.”
The Wildcats actually moved the ball effectively a few times during the first three quarters, including a first-and-goal at the five halfway through the second quarter, but could not cash in and turn the chances into points.
The Westland defense, meanwhile, did a great job of shutting down Mourning, holding the Sharks (0-4) to 66 yards of total offense. But they also benefited from a key injury when starting quarterback Danny Pierre-Louis went down with a shoulder injury late in the first quarter and was lost for the game.
“I have to be honest, there were some days when I really wondered if this would ever happen,” said Westland head coach Matt Van Dusen, soaked from head to toe thanks to multiple dousings from water coolers. “But all these kids believed in me, the administration believed in me, my coaches believed in me and stayed with me so it just makes this moment that much sweeter.”
Van Dusen, who is a former equipment manager for the Florida Gators who took over the struggling program last year, watched his team get the break they needed when Mourning punter Tyler Zuluaga mishandled a snap and Otano fell on the loose ball setting the Wildcats up at the Mourning 40.
A pair of passes from Medina to Eduardo Parapar totaling 25 yards plus an 11-yard run by Medina set Westland up with a first-and-goal at the two. Two plays later, a team that scored just two touchdowns all of last season, was in the end zone on Medina’s keeper.
Said Van Dusen. “I’m just so darn proud of these kids because they’ve really gotten beaten up for a long time with everybody making fun of them all the time. They just turned to each other, leaned on each other and this moment is for them.”
▪ Colonial Christian d. Coral Shores 3-0 (25-15, 25-15, 25-21): Arianna Long 14 kills, 17 digs, 7 service points; Morgan Wells 8 kills, 5 aces, 15 service points, 7 digs; Julianna Rendon 6 kills, 25 assists; Jessica Givens 5 kills, 5 aces, 10 service points, 11 digs; CCS: 7-2.