It turned out to be a closer and tighter finish than they expected.
But in the end, University School, in a big showdown of Broward County powers, showed just enough resolve at the end to hang on and knock off Western 14-9 before a packed house at Western High School on Friday night.
University held a comfortable 14-2 lead with just more than four minutes left when the Wildcats offense, having struggled all night, suddenly came to life and put on a furious rally to nearly pull it out.
Taking over on their own 24-yard line with 4:14 left trailing by 12, Western, ranked No. 6 in the Miami Herald’s Top 20 South Florida poll, appeared dead in the water.
But freshman quarterback Collin Hurst, who replaced ineffective starter Cedquan Smith in the second quarter, put on a show.
Thanks to his 19-yard scramble on fourth-and-7 at midfield and a remarkable 10-yard touchdown run, Hurst led his team on a nine-play scoring drive to cut the U. School lead to five with 1:48 left.
After the Wildcats burned their timeouts and forced a Sharks punt, a 65-yarder by Brandon Inniss, they were still stuck at their own 20 with 1:08 left and no timeouts.
But Hurst kept flinging it and scrambling his way downfield. A 32-yard pass to Kauran St. Louis put Western (2-1) at the University 14 with 30 seconds left. Faced with a fourth-and-3 at the seven with 12 seconds left, his pass in the right flat to Jayson Salkey was broken up by Warren Sweeney.
“A really big win for our program,” said University coach Daniel Luque, whose team was ranked No. 12 in the Herald poll, “especially beating a big-time playoff team on their field. It almost kind of felt like a playoff game tonight. It was definitely a playoff atmosphere with a big crowd. We were fortunate to make one more play than they did at the end and came up with the win.”
University took a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Nick Vattiato to Inniss and made it stand up into the fourth.
The worst part for Western is that the play should’ve never happened. Faced with a fourth-and-8 at the Western 35, the Sharks were in punt formation. But when the Wildcats were called to too many players in the huddle, they sent the offense back out on the field for a fourth-and 3.
They never even had to risk the fourth down gamble. Western was inexplicably called for 12 men on the field again, giving University an automatic first down. Vattiato and Inniss made them pay for the mistake on the next play.
Still clinging to a 7-2 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Sharks offense, which struggled for most of the night against a tough Wildcats defense, got one more big play.
That’s when Vattiato, about to take off on a scramble, at the last second tossed a pass in the left flat to Deion Small. What looked to be nothing than a short gainer turned into a 36-yard touchdown pass when Small juked two Wildcat defenders before breaking across the field and outsprinting everyone to the end zone for what turned out to be the difference-making score in the game with 8:06 left.
“I wasn’t sure if Nick was going to take off running which meant I would have to head downfield and block for him,” Small said. “But my coaches always tell me no matter what to stay outside and be there for the late pass and that’s what Nick did. When I got it, I just put a move on somebody and then started cutting back across the field and then saw open grass. When I got to the end zone I just turned around hoping not to see a flag on the ground and there wasn’t.”
Small was right about looking for the flag. The Sharks, as well as Western were plagued by a total of 24 penalties all night, but there were none on this play.
“This was huge for us tonight,” Small said. “Last week we were down because we didn’t have Nick [Vattiato, who was out due to concussion protocol in a loss to McArthur], but we knew we had what was in us to bounce back and it feels great to beat a really good team on their field tonight. This will propel us on to a big season.”
▪ Krop 51, Westland Hialeah 8: Krop (4-0) was led by quarterback Jacob Golan, who went 9 for 11 for 303 yards and 4 TDs. Antonio Smith paced the Lightning with his fourth game of 100-plus rushing. Keynen Tukes had tw catches for 105, including a 75-yard TD and run. Davin Derival had a 65-yard TD catch. Deandre Tamarez caught his fiifth TD, and senior standout Reginald Alvin scored on the opening kickoff return for 85 yards for his 10th overall TD of the year. Defensively, Isaac Joseph led the way with two Sacks and 2 TFL’s, Giovanni Davis had 2 sacks and an interception returned for a TD of 20 yards. Antonio Ferguson chipped in with 7 tackles and 2 PBU’s.
▪ Calvary Christian 28, North Broward Prep 7: Luke Collins threw a touchdown pass to Alex Villas for NBP’s only score.
▪ Palm Beach Benjamin 30, Pine Crest 3: PC – Nicolas Amunategui 68 yards on 14 carries; Scott Kean 8-of-21, 68 yards; Amunategui 2 receptions for 28 yards
▪ Ransom-Everglades 30, Palmer Trinity 0. RE: 3-0. PT: 2-2
Belen Jesuit won the 37th Annual Spanish River Invitational held Saturday at Boca Raton South County Regional Park.
The Belen team was led by Junior Aiden Villasuso, who covered the 5K distance in 16:11, followed closely by Diego Gomez and Adam Magoulas.
The team scored 17 points and had the fastest team average, 16:26, of all teams in all classes that competed. Up next for the Wolverines is the Dade County Championships at Larry & Penny Thompson Park next Friday.
▪ Plantation American Heritage d. WPB King’s Academy 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 25-17)
▪ Reagan d. TERRA 3-2 (25-17, 23-25, 26-24, 12-25, 15-11): Sophia Ortega 25 kills, 3 aces, 15 digs; Fabiana Petruzzi 7 kills; Isabella Eby 12 assists, 4 aces, 8 digs; Camila Diaz 17 digs, 3 aces. RR: 6-2
Winter park showcase in Orlando
▪ Florida Christian d. Cocoa Beach 2-0 (25-21, 25-11): Briley Wellinghoff 14 points, 3 aces, 8 digs; Mikaela King 6 points, 2 aces, 8 assists, 4 blocks, 3 kills; Emily Ruiz 12 kills; Madison Estape 5 points, 13 assist, 7 digs
▪ Florida Christian d. Dade City Pasco 2-0 (25-23, 25-13): Emily Ruiz 13 points, 2 aces, 13 kills, Mikaela King had 6 points, 18 Assist, 8 digs, 2 kills and 2 blocks, Kaley Teijeiro had 7 kills
▪ TERRA d. Cutler Bay 7-0: Casey Puett 233, 228, 200 – 661 series; Christian Farfan 223, 611 series; Ryan Toffoli 225, 617 series. TERRA: 3-0
▪ TERRA d. Cutler Bay 7-0: Ella Perez 226, 549 series; Brianna Bogues 209; Gillian Pons 201, 512 series; Alexa Puett 180 TERRA: 3-0