All in all, it was another successful state championship weekend for South Florida football.
Six teams from Miami-Dade and Broward embarked on Orlando’s Camping World Stadium on Friday and Saturday. The results were split right down the middle.
Three teams made their way home with the prized possession that is a state title, with Cardinal Gibbons winning the program’s first state title in Class 5A while Chaminade-Madonna (3A) and Northwestern (6A) repeated as state champs. Champagnat (2A), St. Thomas Aquinas (7A) and Columbus (8A) fell short in their respective championship games.
There were tales of celebration and heartbreak, tears of happiness and defeat, Gatorade and water baths, and reflection on the past, present and future.
Here are five takeaways from the weekend.
Resiliency a common theme
Who would have thought that Cardinal Gibbons would go on to win the state title after star quarterback Nik Scalzo tore his ACL in the regional semifinal?
Or that Northwestern would do the same after starting the year 3-5?
Well, Cardinal Gibbons and Northwestern did, even if everyone else thought their seasons were over.
Both programs exemplified the never-say-die mentality needed during the postseason and showed they could overcome the obstacles that came their way.
For Gibbons, sophomore Brody Palhegyi took over at quarterback and held his own for three games with a major assist from running back Vincent Davis and his defense. In the championship game win over North Marion, Palhegyi 10-of-16 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for another score.
As for Northwestern, the Bulls rattled off seven consecutive wins to close out the season, including the big regional final victory over Central, to claim their second consecutive state title and Miami-Dade County-best sixth overall.
And while Columbus’ season ended with a loss, the Explorers fit this category, too. Columbus rallied from 16 points down with less than 11 minutes left to play and came a two-point conversion shy of possibly forcing overtime against Mandarin.
Playing from behind
With the exception of Northwestern, South Florida teams fell behind early in their championship games.
Champagnat’s opening drive ended with an interception returned for a touchdown and the Lions trailed 21-6 midway through the third quarter before staging a minor rally to only lose by eight, 28-20.
Chaminade trailed 10-0 and Gibbons trailed 10-3 before respectively scoring 38 and 45 unanswered points to win state titles in blowout fashion.
St. Thomas Aquinas trailed Lakeland 10-0 at the half and got within three points during the third quarter before Lakeland rattled off 16 consecutive points to run away with the Class 7A title.
And Columbus’ lone lead of the game lasted less than three minutes. After the Explorers opened the game with a 72-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Brandon McDuffey to Xzavier Henderson, Mandarin responded with 17 consecutive points over the next 12 minutes to take the lead and never looked back.
Broward doubles up again
For the fifth consecutive year and the sixth time in the last seven seasons, Broward County has been the home to two state football champions.
This year, it was Cardinal Gibbons with the program’s first-ever state title and Chaminade-Madonna repeating and winning its fourth title overall.
The other Broward champs over the years: Plantation American Heritage and Chaminade in 2017, Heritage and St. Thomas Aquinas in 2016, Flanagan and St. Thomas Aquinas in 2015, St. Thomas Aquinas and Heritage again back in 2014, and St. Thomas Aquinas and University School in 2012. Heritage was the lone Broward team to bring home a title in 2013.
The District 16-6A domination continues
Northwestern’s win over Armwood on Saturday continued a remarkable streak.
For the seventh consecutive year, a team from District 16-6A has won the Class 6A state championship.
The Bulls are back-to-back winners, Carol City won the title in 2016 and Central won four in a row before that from 2012-2015.
In those seven state title games, the Miami-Dade teams outscored their opponents 218-66 and never game up more than 16 points in a single contest.
The big performances
There were some marquee individual performances from South Florida players this weekend. Among them:
▪ Chaminade-Madonna’s Te’Cory Couch: The senior cornerback intercepted two passes in the state championship win over West Palm Beach King’s Academy. The first came in the second quarter with the Lions down 10-0 and set up Willie Davis’ first touchdown run. Chaminade took control the rest of the game.
▪ Columbus’ Brandon McDuffey: With Mandarin shutting down running back Henry Parrish for most of the game, the Explorers relied on their junior quarterback to make plays. He responded with 296 passing yards and five touchdowns, three to Henderson and two to Kalani Norris.
▪ Cardinal Gibbons’ Sidney Porter: The senior defensive back’s blocked punt in the first half turned the momentum in Gibbons favor against North Marion.