South Dade wide receiver Najeh Baker turned 18 on Friday night. And did he ever find an appropriate way to celebrate.
Baker caught not one, not two, but three touchdown passes to lead his Bucs to a 49-14 rout of Hialeah in a Region 4-8A quarterfinal playoff game at Milander Stadium. South Dade (9-2) will now get what it really wanted – another shot at district rival Southridge next week in a regional semifinal. The two teams went at it two weeks ago for the district title and Southridge won a 15-13 squeaker.
“It’s the first time I’ve had three touchdowns in one game and it was on my birthday so I guess that’s pretty cool,” said Baker, a Toledo commit whose scoring passes from quarterback Demetrius Burns were from 16, 50 and 8 yards. “Maybe they’ll sing happy birthday to me for this. I just told my quarterback at the beginning of the night to find me because I was going to get open. Now we’re looking forward to another shot a the Ridge next week.”
The Bucs jumped out to a 22-0 halftime lead and then, on the very first play of the second half, Burns found Baker for his second score, the 50-yarder that made it 28-0.
Even though the Bucs defense might have taken its foot off the pedal with a big lead as Hialeah starting moving the ball after that, the big lead easily held up thanks to two big plays.
First came a sack and strip fumble of Hialeah quarterback Rylie Aguila at the goal line by Jeremiah Jean-Baptise resulting in a touchdown when linebacker Devin Hardy fell on it for a score.
Hardy wasn’t done. With his team up 35-14 midway through the fourth, Aguila fumbled again on a scramble and Hardy was right there to scoop up the loose ball and ramble 27 yards to the end zone for a scoop and score.
“Wow, two touchdowns, how cool is that,” said Hardy, who has offers from Florida A&M and South Florida. “It just felt great to be able to contribute to my team’s victory tonight. We have a saying around here that offense wins championships but that defense wins games but I think both offense and defense got it done out there tonight.”
Burns enjoyed a productive completing 11-of-17 passes for 152 yards and four touchdown passes, three to Baker and a 6 yarder to Trevon Sanders while running back Melchelzadek Mathews led the way on the ground with 74 yards on eight carries.
For Hialeah, it was a disappointing end to a breakout season as the T-Breds, under first year head coach Gary Sanchez, finished 9-2, won a district title and hosted a postseason for the first time since 2003.
“It wasn’t perfect but you can’t complain too much when you win a playoff game by five touchdowns, that’s for sure,” said South Dade head coach Nate Hudson. “In the second half we had a few defensive hiccups but what I liked was that we also came up with four turnovers and two big plays for scores and those are the things you need from your defense when the postseason starts.”
And about his next opponent?
“Southridge,” said Hudson with a grin. “We lost a close one a few weeks ago so we’re excited and looking forward to it. It should be good one.”