University School’s football team started its national TV debut Sunday showing off its talented roster.
But by the second half, the image seen was a team limping to the finish line.
Luckily for the Suns, their defense had enough in reserve.
Senior linebacker Skai Moore blocked a punt in the first quarter to get University started and came up with a game-clinching, 41-yard interception return for a touchdown that led to a 33-14 victory over Trotwood Madison at Kings Stadium in Kings Mills, Ohio.
The game was part of ESPN’s Geico Kickoff Classic Weekend, and University School’s first to be broadcast nationwide.
“I believe that adversity happens for a reason,” University coach Roger Harriott said. “What happened today will force us to work harder. ESPN and Paragon Marketing gave us a great opportunity to represent our school and Broward County and we got the job done.”
University (1-0) took a 19-0 lead into halftime against Madison, Ohio’s defending Division II state champions, in the first half led by sophomore running back Jordan Scarlett’s two touchdowns. Scarlett finished with 20 carries for 116 yards.
University’s first two drives stalled in the first quarter, but Moore put the Suns ahead when he broke through and blocked a punt that Jalen Battle recovered for a touchdown.
Led by Moore, Nick Internicola, Brandon Boyce and Aubrey Duty-Tyson, the Suns’ defense kept Madison from sustaining any momentum. But early in the second half, several players — including Moore — were forced to leave the game for several plays at a time because of cramping.
Madison cut the lead to 19-7 with 9:31 left in the third quarter after capitalizing on a blocked punt of its own.
The Rams also stifled University’s offense, not allowing a drive longer than three plays until the final five minutes of the game.
But University, which allowed a combined 93 points against two out-of-state opponents last season, responded.
“Our defense had cramps, and some of us including me were suffering full-body cramps,” Internicola said. “All of us stuck it out and overcame.”
The Suns stopped Madison on downs twice and forced a punt in its next three series. University defensive lineman Maquedius Bain, who also battled heat exhaustion and played only at offensive tackle in the first half, recovered a fumble on fourth down to end one drive. Moore (6-2, 210 pounds), the No. 11 overall prospect in Broward by The Miami Herald, delivered the crippling blow to the Rams when he anticipated a pass from quarterback Andre Foster, caught it and weaved his way to the end zone.
Moore then collapsed again in the end zone with more cramps.
“I can’t even explain why it kept happening because it wasn’t that hot, just a dry heat really,” Moore said. “Our defense was inexperienced last year, but I think we proved we can bring a little swag.”
Despite the ongoing fatigue, University managed to allow only 17 rushing yards and 130 overall. University also came up with a second interception when senior Khalil Sewell snared another on the ensuing drive.
University won’t have much time to rest.
The Suns travel to Cape Coral on Friday to face Island Coast at 7 p.m. University beat Island Coast in 2010 in the Class 2B state semifinals.
“This will teach us to stay focused, hydrate better and eat better than we normally do on the road,” Scarlett said. “We didn’t buckle and we played with a championship effort.”
UNIVERSITY SCHOOL 33
TROTWOOD MADISON 14
US—Battle recovers blocked punt (Cruz kick)
US—Scarlett 2 run (kick blocked)
US—Scarlett 22 run (run failed)
TM—Green 3 run (Cospy kick)
US—Moore 41 interception return (Cruz kick)
US—Hunt 1 run (Cruz kick)
TM—Crisp 92 kickoff return (Cospy kick)
Rushing (att-yds)—UNIV: White 5-(-10), Woods 2-(-3), Hunt 7-27, Scarlett 20-116. TM: Green 8-30, Foster 3-(-24), Jackson 11-31, DeWeaver 1-(-20).
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)—UNIV: White 20-32-0, 128. TM: Foster 8-25-105-1, DeWeaver 1-4-8-1.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD)—UNIV: Hunt 1-3, Scarlett 3-11, Cunningham 4-21, Woods 6-42, Soto 6-51. TM: Wilson 3-43, Mallory 3-43, McCray 1-7, Green 1-9.