Even after 13 years, defense is still the name of the game at Carol City.
In a performance that stirred up memories of a cold December night in 2003 — the last time a suffocating Chiefs’ defense delivered a state championship — Carol City’s modern-day defense smothered Lakeland Lake Gibson during a 14-6 victory in the Class 6A final.
Carol City (10-3) secured its first state title since that 2003 season and won its fifth overall.
“This was a performance reminiscent of the Carol City teams of old and the great defenses this school had in the past under coach Walt Frazier,” said Carol City coach Aubrey Hill, who played for the Chiefs in the late 1980s and lost in the state final his senior season.
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Frazier was in the building Saturday watching from the stands.
And it was a sight that connected Carol City’s past to its present.
During his tenure as Carol City coach, Frazier’s disciplined defenses often dictated the outcomes of games by controlling the line of scrimmage and forcing turnovers.
They did it during Carol City’s 29-game winning streak during the 1996-97 seasons when the Chiefs won back-to-back state titles.
They did it again in 2003 in Gainesville when future NFL players Ricky Jean-Francois and Kenny Phillips wore orange and black and linebacker Willie Williams broke then-Orlando Edgewater quarterback Mike Dunn’s arm on a sack that knocked him out for the remainder of Carol City’s 13-0 state championship shutout.
And they did it again Saturday at Camping World Stadium as Frazier watched along with numerous Chiefs’ alums including recording artist Rick Ross, a 1994 alumnus.
“Coach Frazier has always given us great advice and he’s been a great supporter of this team,” Hill said. “Miami Gardens sent a who’s who here tonight and I’m sure we’re all going to celebrate this win.”
This year’s defense, which arrived at state allowing a South Florida-best 105.1 yards per game, improved dramatically under Damon Cogdell’s tutelage. Cogdell, who guided Miramar to a state title in 2009, brought over some of his former assistant coaches to work alongside Hill’s current staff.
The group meshed and produced a state championship squad.
“When Cogdell came in he reached out to some of us, we came over here and everyone bonded together,” said assistant coach Herbert Hammond, who was on the Miramar championship team and also won a state title in 2007 as an assistant at Northwestern.
After a scoreless stalemate in the first half, Carol City finally scored when sophomore running back Nay’quan Wright found the end zone from a yard out with 5:37 left in the third quarter for the first of his two touchdowns. Wright set up the score with a 51-yard run on the previous play.
Wright’s second score was set up by senior defensive back Zion Hartfield, who intercepted Thomas and returned it to the Lake Gibson’ 7-yard line.
The Chiefs defense, which held nine opponents to single-digits and recorded three shutouts this season, posted six sacks and three interceptions and held Lake Gibson to only 89 total yards with its lone score coming with six minutes left in the fourth quarter after a Carol City turnover set up the Braves in the Chiefs’ red zone.
But the Chiefs held off a last-ditch comeback effort when junior Irshaad Davis intercepted Lake Gibson quarterback Kevaris Thomas with 1:17 left in the fourth.
“Irshaad is a guy we sub in for passing situations,” Carol City defensive coordinator Damon Cogdell said. “He went up and got that ball and it was an amazing feeling.”
Davis said: “Watching film I knew that was the route the receiver was going to take. I just wanted to make a play and end the game quick.”
STATE FOOTBALL FINALS
Class 8A: Southridge 14, Orlando Dr. Phillips 10
Class 7A: St. Thomas Aquinas 45, Tampa Plant 6
Class 6A: Carol City 14, Lakeland Lake Gibson 6
Class 5A: Plantation American Heritage 35, Ponte Vedra 33
Class 4A: Cocoa 31, Jacksonville Bolles 17
Class 3A: Jacksonville Trinity Christian 24, Chaminade-Madonna 13
Class 2A: Jacksonville University Christian 24, Champagnat Catholic 8
Class 1A: Pahokee 34, Baker 21