The University School football team had a message to send out on Thursday night: Here we are.
A team that came within one game of playing in last year’s Class 4A state championship game before getting blown out in Cocoa in a state semifinal has been a team on a mission since then.
Thursday night’s 48-16 blowout of defending 2A state champion Champagnat was just one more message-sender. The win not only kept the Sharks, ranked No. 8 in the Herald’s South Florida Top 20 poll, perfect at 7-0, but it also represented their seventh consecutive game in which they forced a running clock on their opponent.
And some of those running clocks have come against the likes of Glades Central, Immokalee, Monsignor Pace and last week’s opponent, a very good and previously undefeated Delray Beach American Heritage team by a 50-14 final.
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“When you’ve got a core group of guys that have been here for a long time, you get the camaraderie, the love, the closeness of the kids and that ultimately translates out on to the field,” said University head coach Daniel Luque. “A lot of teams have to rely on transfers year in and year out but we’ve been fortunate to keep most of these guys together.”
Luque stood and watch his team Thursday night what it seems to do every week: Score early, score fast, take control and never look back.
Before their fans barely had a chance to take their seats, the Sharks were up 14-0 on the Lions just three minutes into the game thanks to a pair of Nick Vattiato touchdown passes to Brandon Inniss and Jordan Irizarry with a fumble recovery by Robert Floyd deep in Lions territory sandwiched in between.
Running back Michael Hurt scored from 17 yards out before Vattiato hooked up with Xavien Flowers for back-to-back touchdown passes of 28 and 42 yards as the Sharks took a 38-8 lead to the locker room at halftime.
When running back Kenny McIntosh, who had a quiet night by his standards (66 yards on 15 carries) plunged over from 1 yard out midway through the third quarter, it was 45-8 and the clock was going.
“We just want to keep our heads down and finish our business,” said Flowers. “We had unfinished business when we walked off that field in Cocoa last year and our goal is to get back and finish.”
If they want to get where they want to go, which is Orlando, besides Cocoa, another big challenge waiting for them in the postseason likely could be Booker T. Washington in what would be a monster matchup.
“We’ll see. The time will come and we’ll be ready,” said Flowers when asked about the potential matchup.
“It’s been on our mind since last year and seven running clocks says it all,” said McIntosh, who has FBS offers from everywhere and has narrowed down his top-five list to Auburn, Georgia, Oklahoma, Penn State and Miami. “We’re just coming out, not taking our foot off the petal and taking care of business. Our work ethic, we’ve got a point to make this year.”
Asked about Booker T, McIntosh paused and then cracked a small grin.
“They’re talking like they might have an easy road,” he said. “We’ll be here waiting for them and see what happens on the field.”
“Coming into this season, everybody was excited about what we had and now that we’ve had seven running clock games in a row, that really says something,” said Vattiato, just a sophomore who finished his productive night 10-of-23 for 212 yards and the four touchdowns. “Now we want to just keep it going.”
“You’ve got to take it one game at a time,” said Luque who was much more cautious when asked about the potential Booker T. matchup in the postseason. “You can’t worry about rankings or that stuff. We just have take care of our business to make sure we’re a high seed so we get to play on our field and take it from there. There’s a lot of stuff that can happen from week to week including injuries, eligibility. The goal is Orlando but there are no free passes. We’re going to have to work our tails off to get there.”
It has been a choppy year for the Lions who fell to 3-4. They lost their coach Dennis Marroquin who took a job in the private sector, graduated many seniors from last year’s championship team and lost a few others during the offseason who transferred. But a very tough schedule still has them at a No. 5 seed in their region so a playoff berth is virtually assured and there is still enough talent left to make a deep postseason run.