Cardinal Gibbons safety Sidney Porter had North Marion’s punting formation memorized. He knew their tendencies, their weak points.
It made his second-quarter heroics in the Class 5A state championship game at Camping World Stadium on Friday all the more rewarding. At that point, Porter charged past the line of scrimmage on fourth down, got his hand on Keniuel Gates’ punt attempt, scooped up the ball and ran untouched into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown.
“I knew I was going to get one,” Porter said.
The play handed Cardinal Gibbons the momentum. The Chiefs never gave it back.
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And when the clock finally expired, a dream that was a season in the making became reality. They could finally say it: The Cardinal Gibbons Chiefs are state champions.
Porter’s blocked punt, big plays afterward from backup quarterback Brody Palhegyi and starting running back Vincent Davis, and another ferocious effort from the defense led Gibbons to a 48-10 win over North Marion for the school’s first state football title.
“It feels good,” said Davis, a Pittsburgh commit who finished with 130 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries along with a 12-yard catch. “I’m not an emotional guy, but this might make me cry.”
The celebration at midfield came after a year in which expectations loomed large from the start and remained that way despite setbacks throughout the year.
Gibbons started the season 0-2 after losing to Miami Central and Milton (Ga.), after which head coach Matt DuBuc said they were “as low as they could get.” The Chiefs finished 13-0 after that, including a pair of wins over district rival Plantation American Heritage. Gibbons outscored its opponents 177-61 during the playoffs.
“Lucky 13,” said DuBuc, a Gibbons alumnus who was the Chiefs’ running back in 1990 — the only other time the team reached the state championship.
It played without defensive end Khris Bogle for the first six games of the regular season. He came back to finish with 17.5 tackles for loss in the final nine games.
It lost starting quarterback Nik Scalzo two weeks into the playoffs after he suffered a torn right ACL in the regional semifinal. Palheygi was serviceable during the next two playoff games — a 35-7 rout of Heritage in the regional final and a 14-3 win over Tampa Jesuit in the state semifinal — before stepping up big in the title game. He finished Friday’s state title game with 138 yards and a touchdown on 10-for-16 passing and added another score on the ground.
“We had a lot of doubters through the whole year,” Porter said. “... But we made it here.”
Through it all, Cardinal Gibbons found a way.
Friday was no different.
The Chiefs defense attacked North Marion backup quarterback Quintin Gross, who entered in the first quarter after starting quarterback Corey Wilsher suffered a leg injury.
After the Gibbons offense stalled early in the second quarter down 10-3, the defense responded with three consecutive three-and-outs to close out the first half. Gibbons (13-2) put points on the board after each.
First came Porter’s blocked punt, the fourth by Gibbons this year, to tie the game at 10-10.
One drive later, the offense marched 57 yards down the field but settled for a 19-yard field goal from Daton Montiel to go up 13-10.
And then, with 50 seconds left in the half, Palhegyi hit wide receiver Jake Harrington on a short pass that turned into a 52-yard touchdown to give Cardinal Gibbons the 20-10 lead at halftime.
Two Davis touchdowns — 49 yards in the third quarter and 3 yards in the fourth — a 3-yard rushing touchdown by Coleman Bennett and a fourth-quarter Palhegyi touchdown run set up the running clock.
After giving up 112 yards in the first quarter, Gibbons’ defense held North Marion (12-3) to minus-3 yards in the final three periods. Senior Trevis Robinson recorded two sacks.
“Man, there’s a whole many things that go into the pot of soup that makes a champion,” DuBuc said. “It’s been great today.”