Blanche Ely was trailing 21-19 in the third quarter to Boyd Anderson on Oct. 18 when the Tigers started to feel their season slipping away.
The Tigers — who were 1-5 at the time — were playing catch up again. Ely trimmed the deficit to two points before giving up a 60-yard run to its own 10-yard line, giving the Cobras another opportunity to score. Then the Tigers stood up for themselves.
“Hold the rope,” senior Tyquan Fields reminded his defense after allowing a first-and goal.
And the Tigers did.
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Ely held Boyd Anderson scoreless for the rest of the game, winning in dramatic fashion with two touchdowns in the final minute to steal a pivotal victory in District 14-7A, lighting a fire under the Tigers for the rest of the season.
“Holding the rope means playing for one another, playing for your team, your school, the city of Pompano [Beach],” Ely coach Charles Hafley said. “Holding the rope is mainly for playing for each other.”
Hafley said a member of the community proposed the motto to the team.
“It’s personal to the Blanche Ely football program,” Hafley said of the individual, whom he declined to name. “He’s been around the community for years and years. He’s a very familiar face to the city of Pompano Beach and Blanche Ely community.”
The win over Boyd Anderson was a turning point for Ely (5-5), which has won four games in a row to become district champs.
The Tigers have accomplished three of four goals they set before the beginning of the season: winning the district, earning a home playoff game and beating rival Dillard.
Having a winning record was also on the list, but a .500 record and a 50-0 rout over Dillard made up for that missed goal. It was the largest margin of victory in the Soul Bowl since 1995, when Ely won 52-6.
Hafley said building greater team unity and recovering from early season injuries to key players have helped the turnaround.
He also pointed to improvement of quarterback Nelson Ervin, who has been working harder in the weight room and watching more film.
“He had to understand that playing quarterback at Blanche Ely High School, the community, the school, everyone looks at you in another perspective,” Hafley said.
“They have trust in him, and the team rallies behind Nelson Ervin. He understands that and he puts more effort in it now to make the team better. He’s come on strong for us the last four, five weeks.”
Hafley said seniors defensive end Brock Smith and defensive back Terry McGray — a University of Miami commitment — were among the many players who took pride in the Soul Bowl victory. The Tigers will host West Boca Raton (7-2) when the regional playoff round begins Friday.
“We’re achieving the goals we’ve set out [to accomplish] as a team, and now it’s about finishing strong in this playoff run,” Hafley said.