Miami-Dade High Schools

Southridge to lean on defense in state title game

Southridge HS Antwan Collier leaps as he runs the ball in the second quarter as they play Coral Gable HS at Southridge High School in South Dade, Nov. 25, 2016.
Southridge HS Antwan Collier leaps as he runs the ball in the second quarter as they play Coral Gable HS at Southridge High School in South Dade, Nov. 25, 2016.

Southridge senior Antwan Collier’s part-time job could be more important than his full-time assignment.

The first job for Collier, who is long and lean at 6-2, 180 pounds, is to be the top cornerback on perhaps the best defense in the state.

His skill in that area brought a former NFL coach to the Cutler Ridge area on Monday.

“Lovie Smith was here for two hours, meeting with [Collier],” Southridge coach Billy Rolle said of the Illinois coach. “They really want to land him.”

With an abundance of tall wide receivers at the next level, Collier’s size and skills make him an attractive cornerback prospect to not only Illinois but also Cal, Cincinnati and others.

The Southridge Spartans (11-2) clinched their first trip to the state finals since 1999 with a 26-7 win over Deerfield Beach on Dec. 2, 2016.

But it’s his ability to run the football as a Wildcat quarterback that could be the biggest factor Friday night, when the Spartans (11-2) take on Orlando’s Dr. Phillips (12-2) for the state title in Class 8A.

Both teams have nine-game win streaks, but Southridge’s defense has allowed less than a field goal per contest this season. That’s 48 points in 13 games for an average of 3.7.

No team has scored over 20 points on the Spartans, whose only losses came early in the season to Class 6A state finalist Carol City and Class 4A state semifinalist Booker T. Washington.

Following those two consecutive losses, Southridge had an amazing streak of seven consecutive shutouts that was snapped two weeks ago.

Collier, as a shutdown corner, is a big part of that defense.

But he’s also the quarterback who broke three consecutive runs for big gainers en route to a fourth-quarter, go-ahead, 18-yard touchdown run in last week’s 26-7 victory over Deerfield Beach.

Southridge coach Billy Rolle talks about his team's 26-7 comeback win over Deerfield Beach in a Class 8A state semifinal on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016

Once Collier scored, a couple of Southridge’s coaches let their feelings be known.

“It’s over!” one coach yelled after Southridge had finally taken a 12-7 lead after a stumbling and bumbling first half in which they turned the ball over five times. “It’s over!”

He was right.

Give this Spartans defense a lead, especially in the fourth quarter, and the opponent can forget about winning.

That’s been the pattern this season, and it’s up to Collier and the rest of the offense to put up the few points Southridge’s defense needs.

“Three touchdowns,” Rolle said. “That’s what I’ve told our offense. Get us three touchdowns, and we won’t lose.”

Rolle is right about that — had Southridge scored at least 21 points in every game, the Spartans would be undefeated.

The Spartans’ starting quarterback for most of the season has been Michael Cox, but he was sick for much of last week and also had a bruised non-throwing shoulder.

The Southridge football team won it's first district title since 2011 in a 20-0 win against Palmetto on Oct. 21, 2016 at Southridge Stadium.

Enter Collier, who has gotten more and more work at quarterback in the past three playoff games and figures to start on offense and defense Friday.

Collier was a quarterback in Pop Warner ball and again last season at Killian. He switched to cornerback because that’s where his future lies, but Rolle has been smart enough to let Collier run when needed.

Then again, it’s probably wise for the kids to listen to Rolle, who on Friday could become the first coach to win three state titles with three different schools, having accomplished the feat previously with Northwestern and Killian.

Rolle said that when he arrived at Southridge in time for the 2015 season, inheriting a program that hasn’t won a state title since 1993 and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2011, he showed his new players his championship rings.

“They asked a lot of questions,” Rolle said. “They wanted to know how they could get a ring, too.”

On Friday night, the answer could be to play their usual bone-crushing defense and mix in some big Wildcat runs by Collier.

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