Hialeah refused to let another season full of potential finish without a trip to the playoffs.
In a must-win game, the Thoroughbreds’ defense came up with three timely interceptions and another outstanding rushing performance to defeat North Miami Beach 35-21 on Saturday night at North Miami Stadium.
Hialeah (6-3, 4-1) secured the runner-up playoff berth in District 13-8A a year after coming short of the postseason. North Miami Beach (4-6, 3-2), which won the district last season, was eliminated from postseason contention.
The T-Breds, who finish the regular season Thursday against Coral Reef, will play Coral Gables the following week in the Region 4-8A quarterfinals.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“This win is a tribute to our kids because they never stopped believing we could make it to the playoffs,” Hialeah coach Marc Berman said.
Hialeah persevered despite being penalized 21 times for 188 yards in a game that featured 32 penalties for 293 yards overall.
Hialeah totaled 289 yards and four touchdowns rushing led by senior Henry Bussey’s 166 yards on 19 carries. Versatile senior quarterback Alin Edouard also ran for two touchdowns and finished with 76 yards on 13 carries.
North Miami Beach, however, countered with its passing game erasing an early 14-0 deficit behind a pair of touchdown passes from Cedric Wiggins to Steven Ishmael, who finished with 14 catches for 168 yards.
But Hialeah’s defense made the difference led by wide receiver/defensive back Niko Gonzalez, who along with Bussey, was playing on both offense and defense largely to make up for the absence of four injured starters.
Linebacker Bryan Soto gave NMB its only lead of the game late in the half putting the Chargers ahead 21-14 after recovering a fumble and returning it 7 yards for a touchdown.
Gonzalez stifled the momentum when he hauled in a 37-yard touchdown pass from Edouard to help tie the game right before halftime.
Once Hialeah started to take control in the fourth, Gonzalez helped seal the game’s outcome with an interception in his own end zone denying Ishmael another touchdown catch.
Jermaine Sheriff came up with a similar interception with five minutes left in the game and Raymond Bell had another in the third quarter that ended potential NMB scoring drives.
Bussey broke loose on a 50-yard touchdown run in the third to take the lead for good. Edouard later found an opening and scampered down the sideline for a 45-yard score.
“Defensively we did a great job because [Ishmael] is one of the best receivers in the country and impossible to stop,” Berman said. “We did a good job limiting him and that No. 9 [Gonzalez] is pretty special.”
HIA-Bussey 32 run (Puerta kick)
HIA-Edouard 17 run (Puerta kick)
NMB-Ishmael 8 pass from Wiggins (Mercado kick)
NMB-Ishmael 4 pass from Wiggins (Mercado kick)
NMB-Soto 7 fumble return (Mercado kick)
HIA-Gonzalez 37 pass from Edouard (Puerta kick)
HIA-Bussey 50 run (Puerta kick)
HIA-Edouard 45 run (Puerta kick)
Rushing (att-yds) -- NMB: Jones 1-(-5), Rai 1-3, Wiggins 8-34, Buthler 13-60. HIA: Bryant 1-10, Bell 5-37, Edouard 13-76, Bussey 19-166.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- NMB: Wiggins 18-44-3, 208. HIA: St. Jean 0-1-0, 0, Edouard 3-6-0, 60.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- NMB: Rai 1-5, Lubin 1-15, Jones 2-20, Ishmael 14-168. HIA: Myrthil 1-6, Francis 1-17, Gonzalez 1-37.