It turned out to be a lot tougher than expected, but thanks to some great defense, Piper High School — which has flown off the radar for the past decade — hung on to knock off Taravella 17-14 in a key District 11-8A game to remain undefeated at 7-0 (3-0 in district) and send a big homecoming crowd home a happy bunch.
The news got even better shortly thereafter when, with Deerfield Beach defeating Douglas and Coral Springs losing to Monarch, the Bengals officially clinched their first playoff berth since 2003 and only seventh postseason berth in the 40-year history of the school. They will square off against Deerfield Beach in two weeks to try and win the district.
“I knew we had some athletes when I took over this program. It was just a matter of getting them to believe in me, and they believe in me,” said first-year Piper coach David Coleman, who defeated his old boss, Taravella coach Dan Marguriet, under whom he spent three seasons as the Trojans’ defensive coordinator. “Even though every game has been close, the kids know how to fight and get these wins, and that’s a testimony to their heart and desire.”
It almost didn’t happen.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
After building a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter, it looked like the Bengals would cruise to an easy win.
But a struggling offense scored no more and, after Taravella (2-6, 1-2) scored on a Jevaughn Brown 2-yard run with 2:53 left to cut the Bengals lead to three, Coleman rolled the dice on a fourth-and-6 at the 50 with 1:48 left with a fake punt.
But the Trojans didn’t bite as the upback, Joshua Pierre-Louis, took the direct snap and was stuffed for no gain.
Three plays later, Taravella faced a fourth-and-1 at the Piper 41 when the Bengals defense had one last big play left in it as defensive end Jovan Somoza stuffed running back Anthony Boykin for no gain with 1:09 left, and the Bengals ran out the clock.
“I was looking for a pick play to the right and I just blew up their center and their center ran into the running back, and I managed to get him down,” Somoza said. “We had faith in ourselves as a unit. With our offense struggling, we’ve been put in a position before to have to win it, so we’re use to it already. It feels great to be in this position — 12 years is a long time.”
Said Bengals linebacker Derryck McKnight, who recorded a safety and produced a forced fumble and fumble recovery in the third quarter: “It was great effort as a unit but great D-line play makes linebackers look better and anything I did out there [Friday] is a tribute to them. We’re happy to be 7-0, but we know we’re not where we need to be. We need to be blowing these teams out. We’re making it tougher on ourselves than it should be.”
The Bengals could thank punter Dayvon Medina for their first nine points of the game.
That’s because Medina dropped a perfect 42-yard punt down at the Taravella 1. Two plays later, led by McKnight, the Bengals smothered Trojans running back Anthony Boykin in the end zone for a safety.
Ja’Quez Geffard then fielded the ensuing free kick at his own 38 and bolted 62 yards for a score and 9-0 Piper lead.
The Bengals then built their lead to 17-0 midway through the second quarter when they went 83 yards in just five plays, and it was mostly thanks to running back Holton Watson. Watson broke loose for a 61-yard run to the Trojans’ 27, and two plays later broke through a gaping hole in the middle for a 17-yard score.
“The gamble on the punt? As a coach we make aggressive calls, and if it works we’re heroes and if it doesn’t we’re idiots,” Coleman said. “But I trust my defense, especially my defensive line and they bailed me out but making a play at the end.”