Never underestimate the heart of a champion.
The Miami Christian football team learned that lesson the hard way Thursday night.
After a breakthrough 8-1 regular season that saw them land its first berth in the high school state playoffs since 1976, the Victors probably thought that Champagnat Catholic, the defending Class 2A state champions who struggled to a 4-5 record this season, would offer little resistance.
But what they learned was that records get thrown out the window as Champagnat pulled off a mild 20-19 upset in a Region 4-2A quarterfinal playoff game at Southridge Stadium. The Lions now advance to next week’s regional semifinal where they will travel to Moore Haven, a team they defeated in last year’s regional round on their way to a state title.
“No disrespect to our opponent but we felt going in that the tough schedule we played all season long was what prepared us for something like this,” said Champagnat first year head coach Hector Clavijo, who took over when Dennis Marroquin left after last season to pursue job opportunities in the private sector. “We traveled to Venice, to Niceville, played University School at their place and definitely took our lumps along the way, but it’s all about coming together at the right time and now is the right time.”
The big moment in the game came early in the fourth quarter when, trailing 20-13, the Victors scored and head coach Nick Turnbull rolled the dice and went for two. It was there that two-way star Daryn Jones, from his linebacker position, made the big play when he stuffed an attempted quarterback draw, thwarting the two-point try.
It was just minutes earlier that Jones, as the team’s running back, snapped a 13-13 tie by scoring from 5 yards out, one play after he had bolted 45 yards to put his team inside the 10.
Miami Christian took over at its 20 with four minutes left with one last chance to win it, but Malik Rutherford picked off an MC pass at midfield with three minutes left and the Lions drained the remainder of the clock.
The game also served as an interesting backdrop for both sides. That’s because, after Marroquin stepped down last year and Clavijo was named his successor, the coaching staff split up with three of the Champagnat coaches going to Miami Christian while five of the top Lions players transferred to MC as well as the Lions roster took a major hit.
“I’m not going to lie, our kids were really jacked up for this game,” said Clavijo. “It was almost like a Super Bowl to them given how everything had played out. We’re just happy to be moving on.”
▪ Palmer Trinity 22, Westminster Christian 10: For the second time in as many weeks, Palmer Trinity figured out a way to defeat Westminster Christian.
The celebration was a little bit sweeter this time around.
The Falcons, led by running back Kyon White-Royal and a staunch defense, defeated the host Warriors 22-10 in a Region 4-3A quarterfinal playoff match on Friday afternoon. After closing the game with a Kyndal Royal pick-six, Palmer Trinity players rushed the field in jubilation and celebrated by dunking coach Mark Reese with a cooler of ice water near midfield.
“Nobody thought we would get to this point,” Reese said. “...This win, it’s hard to put into words. I’m really, really happy for the seniors. They invested. Everything that they’ve done has been first class.”
Palmer Trinity (10-2) trailed 10-0 early in the second quarter before one of those seniors — White-Royal — took over the game. He snapped the shutout with a 34-yard rushing touchdown with 2:54 left in the first half. On the ensuing defensive drive, White-Royal recovered a fumble that allowed Palmer Trinity to make a game-tying 40-yard field goal to close out the first half.
After a nearly nine-minute Westminster Christian (10-2) drive to open the second half stalled, Palmer Trinity marched 80 yards down the field capped by a second White-Royal touchdown to take the lead for good.
“You never know when you’re number’s going to be called,” White-Royal said. “You always have to be ready. I was ready.”
Palmer Trinity and Westminster Christian split the pair of regular-season games, with Westminster Christian winning 10-7 on Oct. 12 and Palmer Trinity taking a 29-7 win on Nov. 2 in the FIFC championship game.
Palmer Trinity now advances to the regional semifinal, where it will face defending Class 3A champion Chaminade-Madonna on Nov. 16.