After a storybook season, Miami Belen Jesuit's football team was denied its storybook ending.
In their first state championship game appearance, the Wolverines were unable to slow down an impressive rushing attack by Pensacola High that led to a 28-7 defeat in the Class 3A final at the Citrus Bowl on Friday afternoon.
A crowd of 3,374 -- more than half of which were clad in Belen's blue-and-gold colors -- watched Pensacola control the game by running for 318 yards as a team. A contrast to its typical passing spread offense, Pensacola attempted only two passes.
Meanwhile, the Tigers' defense made key stops and stifled Belen's Wing-T rushing attack in the second half, holding the Wolverines to minus-2 yards after a 128-yard output in the first half.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"We had some good drives, but we couldn't finish," Belen coach Rich Stuart said. ‘‘Their defense did a great job stopping us. That was the difference."
Pensacola (14-1), which won the first state championship in the history of a program that spans more than a century, allowed only 13 points in 20 quarters during the playoffs.
The Wolverines (11-4), who had never advanced past the second round of the playoffs before this season, had their nine-game winning streak snapped. Belen joined Columbus, Gulliver and Monsignor Pace as the only Miami-Dade County private schools to play for a state championship.
Belen's loss also marks the first time that no Dade team has won a state football championship in consecutive seasons since 1989-1990.
sk,1 "It was definitely a great season," Stuart said. "We were hoping to get one more victory. I'm extremely proud of the kids. They found ways to win all season."
The Wolverines' inability to finish long drives prevented them from securing another dramatic victory.
Belen advanced beyond the Pensacola 25-yard line five times.
It scored only once.
Trailing 14-0 with 1:50 left in the second quarter, sophomore running back Imani Davis scored the Wolverines first and only touchdown when he ran a sweep toward the sideline, jumped from the 3-yard line, was hit, and flipped over completely before landing in the end zone.
"We needed to get some points up at the time," Davis said. "The key was everyone blocking.
"I went airborne and I just had to get in for the team."
The play was set up by a blocked punt by Manny Sicre that Mario Santiago recovered at the Pensacola 30.
But Belen missed great opportunities on the previous two drives.
The Wolverines were stopped on downs following a holding penalty that put them in a third-and-long situation. Later, Belen was getting ready to go for it on fourth-and-4 from the 14-yard line when it was called for a false start.
That prompted a field-goal attempt, but freshman Mateo Buraglia's 36-yard attempt hooked inches outside the left upright.PENALTIES A FACTOR
‘‘Penalties hurt us," Stuart said. "You can't get into third-and-long situations against a defense like that. They made stops when they needed to, especially when we got in the red zone."
The Wolverines made another key special-teams play at the start of the second half when Pablo Alvarez stopped kick returner Quan Johnson at the Pensacola 8-yard line.
But the Tigers embarked on a 10-play, 92-yard touchdown drive capped by Jimmy Threat's 22-yard touchdown run to give Pensacola a 21-7 edge.
Pensacola running back Prince Ashanti rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Jalen Spencer ran seven times for 70 yards, including several productive runs up the middle.
Senior quarterback Nic Platt tried to come up with big plays but ran into a quick Pensacola defense that had an answer. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 137 yards, but threw two interceptions on desperation passes in the closing minutes of the game. Senior Sergio Fernandez-Soto caught five passes for 73 yards, including an acrobatic, leaping catch while surrounded by three defenders for 39 yards on third-and-11 from the Belen 29. But the drive ended on downs when Platt was sacked by defensive tackle Charles Snider.
"Pensacola deserved it," Fernandez-Soto said. "They ran the ball more than we expected, and the quarterback ran well. We didn't adjust well enough to what they were doing."