High School Sports

Two more games until state championships. Here’s how the regional finals will shake out

Miami Central Rockets running back Lexington Joseph carries the ball against Carol City Chiefs’ during the Region 4-6A semifinal football game on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018 at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami
Miami Central Rockets running back Lexington Joseph carries the ball against Carol City Chiefs’ during the Region 4-6A semifinal football game on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018 at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

As one high school football coach once told me, “if you’re practicing on Thanksgiving Day, you’ve had a darn good season.”

That’s because it means your team is playing in a regional final and is just two wins away from playing for the state title.

And while winning two more games is no easy task at this point as the competition gets tougher with each playoff round, that will be a nice problem to have this Friday for 11 South Florida teams.

Shockingly, after pretty much dominating whoever they came across on the field all season long, Carol City will NOT be one of those 11 teams. The Chiefs learned the hard way last Friday night that trying to beat your district rival in Central twice in four weeks is awfully tough, especially when you consider the Rockers were practically the only team in the state the might’ve been their equal.

In what basically amounted to a “winner-moves-on, loser-goes-home” matchup, Central, clinging to a three point lead, came up with a huge game-clinching interception with two minutes left sending the Chiefs off to their buses in stunned silence never having dared imagine that they would “not” have to practice on Thanksgiving Day.

On to this week’s picks.

Region 4-8A Final: South Dade (10-2) vs. Columbus (12-0), Friday, 1 p.m. at Tropical Park: Two well-coached teams who have had great seasons will square off in this Friday afternoon matinee at Tropical. The Bucs came up with a terrific road win over Southridge last week, but it was Columbus’ 42-0 destruction of a pretty good Palmetto team that was a real eye-opener.

Coach Chris Merritt has his Explorers, whose only on-field loss was to Carol City which was overturned by forfeit, playing at an extremely high level at just the right time and look poised to make a run at the 8A title game in Orlando in a few weeks. I’ll stick with the hot team.

BD’s Pick: Columbus 27-17.

Region 3-8A Final: Palm Beach Central (11-1) at Deerfield Beach (11-1), Friday, 7:30: After getting a small scare in the opening round against Miramar, Deerfield Beach took care of business last week with an impressive shutout of Plantation.

The Bucks will now host a pretty good team in Palm Beach Central that has won 11 straight games after an opening weekend loss. As long as the Bucks don’t get caught peaking ahead to a possible state semifinal matchup next week against either Columbus or South Dade, they should be okay so look for running back Jaylan Knighton and a stout Bucks defense to lead the way to another victory.

BD’s Pick: Deerfield Beach 33-16.

Region 4-7A Final: Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer (11-1) at St. Thomas Aquinas (11-1), Friday, 7:30: With only two realistic challenging games all season in Central and Deerfield, the Raiders will finally get an opponent in Dwyer that gets their undivided attention following a pair of ridiculously lopsided wins in the first two rounds.

Jack Daniels has spent the last two decades annually putting up the best program in Palm Beach County (including two state titles) so look for Dwyer to step off the buses on Friday unfazed and unintimidated by the St. Thomas mystique. It will also mark the first time the teams have met since an ugly fight following a 37-0 Raiders win in the same round two years ago. Hopefully no fights this time and look for St. Thomas to take care of its business and set up a revenge state semifinal matchup with Venice next week.

BD’s Pick: St. Thomas Aquinas 35-17.

Region 4-6A Final: Northwestern (7-5) vs. Central (10-2) Friday, 7:30 at Traz Powell: The Rockets are in a tricky spot here and would be foolish to think just because they slayed the giant dragon in Carol City last week that this will be a cakewalk.

They may have beaten their neighborhood rivals 38-10 back on Oct. 19, but I was there and that was a 17-10 game entering the fourth quarter so don’t expect Northwestern, which is coming a pair of nice road victories in Daytona Beach and Palm Bay to reach this game, to back down one bit. In fact, they could be catching Central in a perfect spot as the Rockets will need to battle complacency after such an emotional and draining win last week.

But Roland Smith has been down this avenue many times before and will guard against that and should have his Rockets ready to go. Add to that the fact that, with an offensive line that has struggled to protect him all season, Bulls quarterback Isiah Velez might be running for his life all night against a loaded Rockets defensive line. Expect something similar to Oct. 19. The Bulls might hang tough for awhile but eventually Central will pull away and cruise to an easy win.

BD’s Pick: Central 34-13.

Region 4-5A Final: Plantation American Heritage (11-1) at Cardinal Gibbons (10-2), Friday, 7:30: Even though there was a slight chance American Heritage might not survive a tough road test at Rockledge last week, the feeling always has been that a 24-14 Gibbons win over Heritage on Oct. 12 would somehow only be the first of two between these two district rivals. That’s exactly the way it played out as the Patriots turned in an impressive 31-14 win over Rockledge while the Chiefs survived a three-point nail biter over Orlando Jones.

As was the first game which came down to the final possession before a Gibbons pick six sealed it, this one could play out the same way and so very much will depend on the status and health of Chiefs signal caller Nik Scalzo who suffered an injured knee late in the Jones game and gutted it out in the fourth quarter limping his way around the field.

Hate to break the hearts of Gibbons fans who have been so hopeful that “this was their year,” but there is a reason why the Patriots have won four state titles in the last five years. They know how to win games like this and, even if Scalzo is healthy enough to go, I still think they’re going to find a way again on Friday.

BD’s Pick: American Heritage 27-24.

Region 4-4A Final: Glades Central (8-3) at University School (10-1), Friday, 7:30: Thanks to perhaps the biggest upset of the second round last week, there will be no highly anticipated Booker T. Washington-University School regional final matchup everyone had been waiting for all season.

Instead the Sharks, who got a slight scare from Gulliver Prep. last week (falling behind 10-0 after one quarter) before pulling away to an easy win, will get Glades Central which stunned BTW 18-16. This game will be a rematch of the season opener for both teams in which U. School easily handled the Raiders 35-6. Expect a similar result on Friday.

BD’s Pick: University School 41-20.

Region 4-3A Final: Delray American Heritage (9-3) at Chaminade-Madonna (9-2), Friday, 7:30: Chaminade got its postseason off to an impressive start last week by mowing down Palmer Trinity with a running clock game but don’t look for a running clock this week though as Delray Heritage, coming off a late-score upset win over Palm Beach Benjamin last week, is a much more formidable foe.

Nevertheless, more talent lies on the Lions’ side of the ball so with that and the home field, expect them to move one step closer to defending their 3A state title.

BD’s Pick: Chaminade 35-20.

Region 4-2A Final: Champagnat (6-5) at Naples St. John Neumann (10-1), Friday, 7:30: Oh those Champy Lions!! They’re at it again!! Never mind regular-season struggles and a roster much less talented than a year ago when it won the 2A state title, Champagnat knows how to get things done in the postseason.

Even as a No. 5 seed, the Lions edged out Miami Christian in the first round and then traveled to top-seeded Moore Haven last week and came away with an eight-point victory.

I don’t know much about St. John Neumann other than it’s located in Naples. What I do know is that Hector Clavijo has done a great job of holding this Lions team together this season and fully expect them to go to the west coast and bring home another win and state semifinal berth.

BD’s Pick: Champagnat 26-21.

Last week’s record: 10-3; postseason overall: 27-8; season overall: 434-101

Bill Daley can be reached at billd@curtispub.net. Follow him on Twitter: @Billykid11