Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons found out the hard way a year ago that having a potent offense wouldn’t be enough to succeed in its district.
It needed to become a complete team to beat state title contenders Miami Jackson and Plantation American Heritage.
Gibbons got such an effort Saturday, and it was enough to get past one of its biggest obstacles.
Led by senior quarterback Peyton Bender and its improved defense, the Chiefs held off Jackson for a 31-30 victory that helped them clinch a playoff berth at Traz Powell Stadium.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“The offensive line played great, and it’s exciting because I’ve never been in this position before [making the playoffs],” Bender said. “Winning this game was our big focus because we needed it to make the playoffs.”
Cardinal Gibbons (7-0, 2-0 District 16-5A), ranked No. 6 in the state in Class 5A, eliminated Jackson (3-4, 0-2) from playoff contention and handed the Generals their third consecutive loss. The Chiefs advanced to the postseason for the first time since 2011, a year before being moved into their current district.
Gibbons will have a chance to win the district title on Nov. 1 when it plays host to American Heritage.
“We knew how tough this was going to be and we didn’t make it easy,” Gibbons coach Mike Morrill said. “Our defense played great though, and the kids did an outstanding job.”
Bender, a Washington State commit, completed 23 of 41 passes for 312 yards and threw four touchdown passes to only one interception.
Bender, who has 1,919 passing yards, broke the school-record for passing yards previously set by Fred Buckley in 1980.
“It’s awesome and definitely an honor,” Bender said. “I couldn’t do it without our offensive line and our receivers.”
Gibbons totaled 406 yards. Trevon Lee caught nine passes for 105 yards, and George Rushing caught four passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
Gibbons’ defense held Jackson to 36 yards rushing and its star quarterback Quinton Flowers, a University South Florida commitment, to only one touchdown pass. Flowers finished with 250 yards passing on 15 of 29 attempts.
Jackson’s special teams kept it in the game.
Following Bender’s second touchdown pass to George Rushing that gave Gibbons a 24-8 lead, Jackson’s Xavier Bailey returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. Tim Bellinger added a two-point run to cut the deficit to eight.
Gibbons answered with another long drive capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Bender to Sam Kuebler to take a 31-16 lead.
Gibbons defense stopped Jackson on its next drive and the Chiefs looked ready to pull away. But the Generals responded with a 61-yard punt return for touchdown by Jovon Durante. After stopping Gibbons on downs, Durante capped a Jackson scoring drive with a 5-yard touchdown catch on a pass from Flowers. Bellinger’s second two-point run cut the Gibbons lead to 31-30.
“Whenever they cut the score, we reminded ourselves how much we practice these situations,” Bender said. “We were always confident we’d make the plays.’’
CARDINAL GIBBONS 31,
CG-Blake 55 pass from Bender (Seiler kick)
CG-FG Seiler 33
JAC-Flowers 1 run (Durante pass from Flowers)
CG-Rushing 6 pass from Bender (Seiler kick)
CG-Rushing 18 pass from Bender (Seiler kick)
JAC-Bailey 90 kickoff return (Bellinger run)
CG-Kuebler 5 pass from Bender (Seiler kick)
JAC-Durante 61 punt return (run failed)
JAC-Durante 5 pass from Flowers (Bellinger run)
Rushing (att-yds) -- CG: Bender 5-3, McIntosh 21-91. JAC: Bellinger 3-(-3), Williams 1-(-2), Turner 1-3, Griffin 6-12, Flowers 10-26.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- CG: Bender 23-41-1, 312. JAC: Flowers 15-29-0, 250.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- CG: McIntosh 2-19, Kuebler 3-39, Rushing 5-64, Blake 4-85, Lee 9-105. JAC: Griffin 1-(-6), Turner 1-8, Rutherford 1-14, Williams 2-24, Durante 4-74, Bellinger 6-96.