How many times have you seen it happen?
A team loses its star player. Nobody gives that team a chance – and then everyone else on that team raises their level of play and shocks the world.
Say hello to the Chiefs of Cardinal Gibbons High School.
Hosting longtime district nemesis Plantation American Heritage in a Region 4-5A final on Friday night, a team that has hung four state championship banners in the last five seasons, a team that was 23-1 in the postseason during that time and a team that had tortured the Chiefs with two down-to-the-wire postseason losses each of the last two seasons, Gibbons didn’t flinch.
It also didn’t matter that, after losing the heart and soul of their team, quarterback Nik Scalzo to a season-ending knee injury last week, that very few people gave the Chiefs any kind of a shot.
Nope, when it was all over, there they were, celebrating wildly with their hysterical fans following a shocking 35-7 beatdown of Heritage and punching their ticket to next week’s 5A state semifinal where they will host Tampa Jesuit at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 30. It marks only the second state semifinal in the history of the program and first since 1990 when the Chiefs went to the state final before losing to Live Oak Suwannee.
“Amazing, I just can’t say enough about these kids and what they did out on that field tonight,” said Cardinal Gibbons head coach Matt Duboc who was actually a member of that 1990 team. “We talked all week long that even though Nik (Scalzo) was the staple of our offense and our team, he was just one guy and it was about everybody else pulling together and raising their level of play and you saw what happened.”
It happened thanks mainly to a remarkable defensive effort. Led by linebacker Trevis Robinson and defensive end Khris Bogle, the Chiefs, with the exception of one hiccup just before halftime, played complete shutdown defense against the Heritage offense all night long.
Robinson got his team going early when, on Heritage’s first offensive play, a high shotgun snap that quarterback Edwin Rhodes couldn’t handle and then saw the ball squirt away from him when he tried to fall on it, was right there for Robinson to scoop up and score from 10 yards out giving the Chiefs a 7-0 lead three minutes into the game.
It didn’t stop there for the Chiefs defense. Three plays into the next series, cornerback Michael Antoine outdueled Heritage receiver Tyler March on a deep pass and then returned the interception to the Heritage eight.
Two plays later, Scalzo’s backup, sophomore Brody Palhegyi dropped back and threw a perfect strike to Majon Wright from 7 yards out and just like that it was 14-0 before the first quarter water break.
With Heritage (11-2) on its heels, Palhegyi then took his offense 80 yards in 11 plays on its next possession, finding Wright again, this time from 10 yards out and it was 21-0 just a minute and change into the second quarter.
From there it was all about Robinson, Bogle and the rest of the Chiefs defenders who spent the rest of the night putting all kinds of pressure and harassing Rhodes into hurried throws, many of which he had to throw away. Robinson was especially effective as he recorded a pair of sacks, three more tackles for losses and batted down a pair of Rhodes passes at the line.
“I’m just very proud of my teammates, especially playing alongside this dude right here,” said Robinson, pointing to Bogle. “We just did it as a unit. No one individual did this tonight.”
“Everybody doubted us the entire week and we just took that as motivation and just went out there and executed,” said Bogle who has multiple FBS offers but won’t tip his hand as to where he’s leaning. “We just stayed on him (Rhodes) and put the heat on him all night. Just amazing what we did out there tonight.”
It appeared that the momentum in the game turned just 25 seconds before halftime.
That’s when, at midfield with no timeouts left, Heritage stunned the Chiefs when Rhodes hit Vinson Davis with a routine pass in the right flat that Davis, after a couple of moves, took off across the field in the opposite direction, picked up a row of blockers and turned it into a 47 yards touchdown pass to make it 21-7 at the break.
With a good punter in Daton Montiel and his defense playing so solid, Duboc kept things close to the vest in the second half as the teams just kept trading punts.
Still up 21-7, the biggest play in the second half came when, with Gibbons having recorded just one first down in the second half to that point, Heritage got called for pass interference on a third-and-five putting the ball out near midfield.
Three plays later, on third-and-two, running back Vinson Davis bolted through a hole right up the middle for a 47-yard touchdown with 4:15 left and the celebration was under way.
Said Duboc: “Our kids never believed we didn’t have a chance to win this game. Outsiders wrote us off. Every newspaper wrote us off – we were left for dead. I told the kids before the game that this was going to be our resurrection tonight, a resurrection of our program. At the end of the day, it only mattered to 62 kids in that locker room putting red jerseys on.”