High School Sports

South Florida takes over Orlando as six area teams hope to win state football titles

Six South Florida football teams - the Columbus Explorers (top left), St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders (top middle), Northwestern Bulls (top right), Cardinal Gibbons Chiefs (bottom left), Chaminade-Madonna Lions (bottom middle), and Champagnat Catholic Lions (bottom right) - will all compete for state titles at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium this weekend.
Six South Florida football teams - the Columbus Explorers (top left), St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders (top middle), Northwestern Bulls (top right), Cardinal Gibbons Chiefs (bottom left), Chaminade-Madonna Lions (bottom middle), and Champagnat Catholic Lions (bottom right) - will all compete for state titles at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium this weekend.

Camping World Stadium is about to get a heavy dose of South Florida.

Six of the top high school football teams from Miami-Dade and Broward counties will make their way to Orlando during the next two days as they compete for state championships in all but two of the state’s eight classifications. The area does not have a school in the rural Class 1A. Class 4A’s Davie University School reached the state semifinals only to fall short to Cocoa on Friday.

Three of the teams are looking to repeat as state champions. Two more are looking be the first team in their school’s history to win it all. And one looks to tie the state record for the most football championships.

Here’s what you need to know about each game.

Class 2A: Champagnat vs. North Florida Christian, Friday, 10 a.m.

How they got here: After posting just a 4-5 record in the regular season, Hialeah Champagnat squeezed into the playoffs as a No. 5 seed in Region 4 before taking off with four consecutive road playoff wins to make it back to the Class 2A title game. First-year head coach Hector Clavijo has the Lions in a good place to repeat.

Players to watch: RB Daryn “Duke” Jones, LB Donald Georges, DL Bryan Reinstrom.

A win would...: Give Champagnat back-to-back state titles and three overall in the past six years.

About the opponent: North Florida Christian, based out of Tallahassee, is making its first state championship appearance since winning the Class 2A title in 2011 — the school’s seventh overall state football title. The Eagles earned the top seed in Region 1-2A despite going 5-4 in the regular season and won playoff games against Florida A&M (38-6), University Christian (45-21) and Victory Christian (23-20) to make it back to Orlando. Running backs Deon Cosby and Jonathan Railey lead the offense, combining for 1,248 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Eagles also have four players on defense with at least 12 tackles for loss and a pair of senior defensive backs in Von Hayes and Deangelo Mitchell with seven interceptions each.

Class 5A: Cardinal Gibbons vs. North Marion, Friday, 3 p.m.

Cardinal Gibbons Chiefs’ running back Vincent Davis (5) carries the ball against American Heritage Patriots during the Region 4-5A final football game on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018 at Cardinal Gibbons High in Fort Lauderdale. ANDREW ULOZA FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

How they got here: Losses to Central and Milton (Georgia) to open the year put an early damper on Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons’ lofty preseason expectations. The Chiefs haven’t lost since. Gibbons swept through district play, beat district rival Plantation American Heritage twice and is now playing in just the second state championship game in the school’s history and first since 1990. The defense is leading the way and will need to do so on Friday with star quarterback Nik Scalzo out with a torn ACL.

Players to watch: DE Khris Bogle, RB Vincent Davis, WR Troy Stellato

A win would...: Mark Cardinal Gibbons’ first ever state football championship and end the Chiefs’ season on a 13-game win streak after losing the first two games.

About the opponent: North Marion makes its first ever trip to the state title game after a 12-2 season that includes back-to-back upset wins over Nature Coast Tech and Trinity Christian in the postseason. Running back Jolecco Gaskin (1,606 yards, 19 touchdowns) leads the ground game, while three receivers have more than 600 yards this year.

Class 7A: St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Lakeland, Friday, 8 p.m.

St. Thomas Aquinasâ Jordan Battle runs past the Dwyer defense during the first half of their 7A regional final game, Friday, November 23, 2018. St. Thomas Aquinas won 35-0. Michael Laughlin South Florida Sun Sentinel

How they got here: After falling in the state semis last year, the Raiders are back on common ground in the state championship game. Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas lost just one game all year, a 43-27 defeat to Miami Central. The Raiders rolled through the playoffs, outscoring opponents 201-38 with a pair of shutouts over the four games.

Players to watch: RB Daniel Carter, LBs Avery Huff and Anthony Solomon, DBs Jordan Battle and Jaden Davis, DE Braylen Ingraham.

A win would...: Be St. Thomas Aquinas’ fourth state title in five years and would tie the Raiders with Jacksonville Bolles for the most state championships in FHSAA history (11).

About the opponent: Lakeland makes its first appearance in the state title game since 2008 and will face St. Thomas for the fifth time overall in the championship game. The Dreadnaughts, a perfect 14-0 heading into Friday, rely heavily on the run game on offense and have top prospects in tight end Keon Zipperer and defensive end Lloyd Summerall.

Class 3A: Chaminade-Madonna vs. King’s Academy, Saturday, 10 a.m.

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Chaminade-Madonna’s defense takes down University School’s Kenneth McIntosh (1) in the fourth quarter on November 2, 2018. Jennifer Lett Sun Sentinel

How they got here: The Lions are back in their comfort zone, competing for a state championship for a third consecutive season. Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna went 11-2 this year despite facing a gauntlet of a schedule, with its lone losses coming to Class 8A state semifinalist Deerfield Beach and Class 5A power American Heritage. The Lions’ defense has been virtually unstoppable as of late, giving up just 3 total points over the past five games.

Players to watch: linebacker/safety Keontra Smith, wide receiver John Dunmore, running back Thaddeus Franklin, defensive back Te’Cory Couch

A win would...: Give Chaminade its second consecutive state title.

About the opponent: King’s Academy went 9-1 in the regular season and pulled off back-to-back comeback victories over Orlando’s First Academy (23-22) and Tallahassee Florida High (49-48) to advance to its first-ever state title game.

Class 6A: Northwestern vs. Seffner Armwood, Saturday, 3 p.m.

Northwestern wide reciever Romello Brinson attemps a touchdown Miami Centeral defensive back Andrew Bloodsaw tries for a tackle during their Region 4-6A high school football playoff final at Traz Powell Stadium Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in Miami. Gaston De Cardenas Miami Herald

How they got here: A 3-5 start to the year ended with six consecutive wins, including three road playoff wins and an upset of Miami Central in the regional finals. Coach Max Edwards’ team is stepping up at the right time.

Players to watch: defensive end/linebacker Sam Brooks, quarterback Isiah Velez, receiver Romello Brinson, ONE MORE

A win would...: Mark Miami Northwestern’s second consecutive state title and be the seventh consecutive year that a team from District 16-6A — which includes Northwestern, Central and Carol City — won the Class 6A title.

About the opponent: Perennial Class 6A power Armwood is back in the state title game for a seventh time in nine years after going 13-1 on the season and holding seven of its last eight opponents to seven or fewer points. The Hawks have seven players on defense with double-digit tackles for loss, with sophomore Desmond Watson’s 23 leading the way.

Class 8A: Columbus vs. Jacksonville Mandarin, Saturday, 8 p.m.

Miami Columbus receiver Kalani Norris is tackled by Deerfield Beach’s Keyon Martin and Gemon Eaford during the first half of their game, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. Michael Laughlin South Florida Sun Sentinel

How they got here: Outside of its loss to Carol City that was ultimately forfeited, the Explorers have rolled past every opponent they have faced this year. Eight of Miami Columbus’ 13 on-field wins came against playoff teams, and the Explorers are outscoring opponents 183-70 in the postseason heading into the title game.

Players to watch: RB Henry Parrish, WR/DB Kalani Norris, WR/DB Xzavier Henderson, TE Gary Cooper, DL Jeramy Passmore

A win would...: Give Columbus its first state football championship in school history after four previous appearances ended in defeat.

About the opponent: Mandarin makes its state championship debut on Saturday thanks in large part to a strong year from quarterback Carson Beck, an Alabama commit. The Mustangs have scored more than 30 points in five of their past seven games. A shootout is possible in Saturday’s state championship finale.

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