If I may borrow a line that former and longtime ESPN anchor Chris Berman used to use: “That’s why they play the game folks.”
Never mind that Northwestern had zero business on paper beating Central in last Friday night’s 6A regional final at Traz Powell Stadium or that Cardinal Gibbons, without its heart and soul quarterback Nik Scalzo in the lineup, in no way figured to unseat four-time state champion Plantation American Heritage.
Whatever the circumstances, both teams rose up and played some outstanding football (Gibbons’ defensive effort was remarkable) and now find themselves moving on to this week’s state semifinals.
So much for that “defacto” 6A state championship game that I unofficially declared on this page a few weeks ago when Central and Carol City squared off. Maybe the Bulls cut the article out and pinned it to their locker room wall in which “you’re welcome” for the added inspiration.
Whatever the case, last Friday was another classic example of why these games are decided on the field and not on paper.
It’s also a testimony to the quality of football in Dade and Broward County that with the exception of rural upstate 1A, every classification (2A-8A) will have a Dade or Broward team playing Friday night with a shot at next week’s state finals in Orlando.
Three games (involving four teams) will be played in South Florida. Four other teams — Northwestern, University School, Chaminade and Champagnat — hit the road in hopes of a happy bus ride home. All games are Friday at 7:30 p.m.
On to this week’s picks.
8A state semifinal, Columbus (13-0) at Deerfield Beach (12-1)
With three lopsided victories over some pretty good teams, Columbus has been on a postseason roll while the Bucks are back in the same game they were in two years ago when they hosted Southridge and came up short.
This one looks pretty even on paper. The Explorers will look to limit Deerfield running back and Oklahoma commit Jaylan Knighton while trying to put up points on a Bucks defense that is awfully stingy and loaded with FBS talent. With the state’s No. 1 ranked team up north (Wekiva) now gone, the winner of this game will be the favorite to win the 8A title in Orlando.
The hunch here is that Columbus and coach Chris Merritt have been on a mission ever since squandering last year’s opportunity to win a state title and will pull out a close one that could come down to the final possession.
BD’s Pick: Columbus 23-17.
7A state semifinal, Venice (12-1) at St. Thomas Aquinas (12-1)
St. Thomas head coach Roger Harriott will not have to worry about motivating his team this week. The Raiders have been patiently waiting for another shot at the Venice team that upset them in last year’s semi, squashing their dream of a fourth consecutive state title and then watching Venice go on to win the title.
The difference this year is that the Raiders will not have to travel to the west coast (where Venice is routinely tough to beat on its home field) and will host the game in the friendly confines of Brian Piccolo Stadium.
The Raiders, who have not lost a postseason home game since 2003, may not crush this team the way they did two years ago on their field in the same round (46-8) but will still take care of unfinished business.
BD’s Pick: St. Thomas Aquinas 35-20.
6A state semifinal, Northwestern (8-5) at Naples (12-1)
The amazing Bulls. Who would have ever thought after all the Central and Carol City hype all season long Northwestern would be the last team standing?
But head coach Max Edwards and his kids would do well to heed the warning. Yes, they clobbered Naples 42-7 in last year’s state semi, but that game was played at Traz. This time, the Bulls will travel to the west coast to play a team that has historically been very tough on its home field.
Does it look like I’m getting ready to pick Naples? Not a chance! Fool me once, but not twice. The Bulls may not blow this team out and might struggle after expounding a lot of energy against Central Rockets last week, but they’ll find a way to pull this one out and head back to Orlando to defend their 6A title.
BD’s Pick: Northwestern 27-20.
5A state semifinal, Tampa Jesuit (12-1) at Cardinal Gibbons (11-2)
Just like Northwestern, Cardinal Gibbons will face a similar challenge this week. The Chiefs, a team that used up a truck-load of energy in upsetting a big-time rival last week when they knocked American Heritage into the offseason, are hosting a state semifinal for the first time in program history and are squaring off against a very good Tampa Jesuit team clearly capable of coming in and knocking them off.
It was also obvious that while inexperienced backup quarterback Brody Palhegyi did a great job of managing the game, he only threw 10 passes. Head coach Matt Duboc relied on running back Vincent Davis and a great defense, led by linebacker Trevis Robinson and defensive end Khris Bogle, to carry his team.
That formula will need to work again and I think it will as the Chiefs have worked too darn hard to “finally” get past Heritage to mess up this opportunity.
BD’s Pick: Cardinal Gibbons 27-23.
4A state semifinal, University School (11-1) at Cocoa (9-3)
The Sharks return to the “scene of the crime” from a year ago when Cocoa crushed them 49-14 to advance to the 4A title game. Interestingly, the Tigers are a different style team now as former St. Thomas offensive coordinator Ryan Schneider took over the program last summer when John Wilkinson stepped down. Cocoa now runs more of a spread offense as opposed to Cocoa’s traditional grind-it-out style that usually saw them throw less than five passes a game.
This is a tough spot for head coach Danny Luque and his Sharks. Cocoa is awfully tough to beat on its home field and I would be a lot more comfortable making this pick if U. School was hosting the game, but I’m going to go with the Sharks here anyway. Hopefully they will use the experience of last year’s lopsided loss to their advantage and ride the talent of running back Kenny McIntosh to victory.
BD’s Pick: University School 21-20
3A state semifinal, Chaminade-Madonna (10-2) at Clearwater Central Catholic (12-0)
Like University-Cocoa, we have another rematch of last year’s 3A state semi that will have the Lions once again traveling to Clearwater where they dismantled the Marauders a year ago (49-3) en route to the 3A state title.
But Lions head coach Dameon Jones cautioned a few weeks ago that this Central Catholic team is much bigger and more talented than last year’s squad. Couple that with the fact that Chaminade didn’t exactly blow out Delray American Heritage in its regional final last week (14-3) and you have the making for a close game this time. Nevertheless, I’m going to stick with Chaminade to make the long trip worthwhile and grind out a win to advance to Orlando for the third straight year.
BD’s Pick: Chaminade 30-24.
2A state semifinal, Champagnat (7-5) at St. Pete Admiral Farragut (10-1)
An amazing run by the Champy Lions continues as a team that knows nothing but playing road games is clearly benefiting from that now. On paper, it makes no sense why a very talented Farragut team should not win this game.
But if I’ve learned one lesson this year —and over the years, for that matter — with Champagnat is that you take common sense and toss it right out the window. Look for coach Hector Clavijo to take his road warriors out of town once again and find a way to come out on top
BD’s Pick: Champagnat 26-21
Last week’s record: 6-2; Postseason overall: 33-10; Season overall: 440-103.
Bill Daley can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Billykid11