Jaiden Francois had just intercepted his second pass of the night when South Dade coach Nate Hudson came running over to him on the sideline, his face lit up in excitement.
“Get over here,” Hudson said before chest bumping his star defensive back.
It was Francois’ night Friday. The sophomore recorded three interceptions and scored a key touchdown to lift South Dade to a 21-13 win over the host Southridge Spartans in a Region 4-8A semifinal high school football playoff game and avenge a loss to the Spartans from three weeks earlier.
“Redemption it is,” Hudson said.
But redemption certainly didn’t come easy.
Turnovers and penalties — four and eight (for 45 yards), respectively — stunted any momentum the Bucs gained in the first half.
South Dade (10-2) found itself in an early 6-0 hole when Southridge opened the second quarter with a 27-yard pass from Antwan Anderson to Roscoe Parrish to cap a 13-play, 87-yard drive. The Bucs evened the score with four seconds left in the first half on a 27-yard touchdown pass of their own, with Demetrius Burns finding Najeh Baker on a drive set up by Francois’ first interception of the night.
“We were in a rhythm that we wanted,” Hudson said, “but at the same time we knew we had to understand the situation.”
The rhythm turned into full-out domination late in the third quarter and into the fourth. It started when the South Dade defense stuffed Southridge running back Courtney Reese in the end zone for a safety to take an 8-6 lead.
Two drives later, Francois scored on a 2-yard rushing touchdown set up by a big 42-yard catch by Frank Ladson over Southridge’s Tyrique Stevenson.
Francois then recorded interceptions on back-to-back drives, the second of which set up a seven-play drive capped by a 20-yard rushing touchdown from Justin Smith to give South Dade a 21-6 edge with 3:27 left to play.
“It changed the momentum of the game,” Francois said of his . “It put the offense back on the field and the boys did what they were supposed to do after that.”
Francois now has 11 interceptions on the season.
“He’s been stellar all year,” Hudson said. “From the beginning, I sat there and told him ‘Listen, with you being a defensive back and me being a former defensive back, I’m going to hold you accountable to set a standard for us. I want you to set the tone in the secondary.’ He’s set the tone from the beginning.”
The Bucs held Southridge (9-3) to 5 yards in the second half before the Spartans put together a quick three-play, 70-yard touchdown drive. Anderson took off for a 41-yard run to open the series and then complete a 24-yard pass to a wide-open Jaheim Jerry in the end zone to make it a one-score game with 2:12 left in regulation.
South Dade ran out the clock to seal the win and set up a date with the Columbus Explorers in the regional final next week. The Explorers cruised in their semifinal on Thursday, shutting out the Palmetto Panthers 42-0.