Miami-Dade High Schools

On one leg, Cardinal Gibbons’ quarterback guides Chiefs into region championship

Cardinal Gibbons quarterback Nik Scalzo wants a blocker on American Heritage’s Timothy Butler during the first half of their game, Friday, October 12, 2018.
Cardinal Gibbons quarterback Nik Scalzo wants a blocker on American Heritage’s Timothy Butler during the first half of their game, Friday, October 12, 2018. South Florida Sun Sentinel

Nik Scalzo expected the worst as he laid on the turf at Dr. Bud Tight Field in Fort Lauderdale. Maybe some regret seeped in as he freelanced on a reverse pass and got himself laid out on the goal line. The quarterback worried he maybe tore his right anterior cruciate ligament and put Cardinal Gibbons’ season in jeopardy.

He also never doubted whether he’d return to the field. He was going to lead the Chiefs past Orlando Jones.

“I was going to come in regardless. That’s how I am,” Scalzo said after the home win. “I’m going to leave my heart out on the field. This could be my last game out here. I’m not going to lose on that.”

Scalzo missed one drive, then hobbled back on to the field early in the fourth quarter. He shuffled through his drops — Scalzo called it a “Jay Cutler dropback” — and literally hopped off the field during timeouts. But he also helped Cardinal Gibbons survive for a 30-27 win after Jones missed a 38-yard field goal in the final minute. The Chiefs advance to the Region 4-5A championship and a rematch with archrival Plantation American Heritage.

It was the sort of performance the Chiefs (10-2) have come to expect from their Kentucky Wildcats-committed quarterback. Statistically, Scalzo struggled a bit, but made three of the biggest plays to help Cardinal Gibbons hang on.

Scalzo returned to the field in the final quarter just moments after his backup threw a pick six, letting the Tigers (10-2) cut the lead to 23-21 with 11:39 remaining. The senior helped the Chiefs cross midfield and eventually faced a a third-and-9 play from Jones’ 41-yard line. He dropped back the best he could as Dimon Stewart ran a corner route to the right sideline. Without any help from his right leg, Scalzo floated a pass down the sideline and the wide receiver pulled in a one-handed catch to extend the drive. The next play, Vincent Davis ran in a 15-yard touchdown to stretch the Chiefs’ lead to 30-21 with 6:48 remaining.

Scalzo finished the game 12 of 27 with 111 yards. He went 2 for 5 for 53 yards after the injury.

“Gutsy performance as usual,” coach Matt DuBuc said after the game. “We just didn’t make a lot of plays early that we’re used to making, then mad some big plays to kind of get us back in the game and then pulled the trick play out.”

Scalzo wasn’t supposed to be the target for Coleman Bennett’s pass. He wasn’t even supposed to run a route, but after he handed the ball to Davis, who then flipped it to his fellow running back, Scalzo saw open field down the right sideline. Bennett found Scalzo in front of the end zone and made the easy pass. As Scalzo tried to lunge and score, Tigers defensive back PJ Jules met him at the goal line and the quarterback’s knee buckled. He said trainers now think it might be a hamstring issue.

The catch, however, gave Cardinal Gibbons 16 yards and a crucial first down at the 2-yard line. Davis ran in a touchdown a player later. Committed to the Pittsburgh Panthers, Davis finished with 90 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries and became the focal point of the offense after Scalzo’s injury.

“Whenever we need him, Vince is there,” Scalzo said. “He’s one of the best running backs in Broward County, if not all of the nation.”

Scalzo also ran for one touchdown in the opening quarter. With the Chiefs down 14-0 early, Scalzo scrambled 10 yards in the red zone to convert a third-and-10 play, then sneaked in for a 1-yard touchdown.

The defense clamped down off the shaky start. After Jones scored twice in its first two possessions, Cardinal Gibbons kept the Tigers’ offense from finding the end zone again until 2:07 remained. The Chiefs recorded three sacks, recovered a fumble and blocked two kicks, including a punt, which defensive back Derek Atwaters returned for a touchdown just before halftime.

Jones, however, followed its late touchdown by recovering an onside kick and quickly moved into the red zone. A Cardinal Gibbons sack and a Tigers incompletion meant Jones had to settle for a short field goal with 43 seconds left. The Tigers’ kick sailed wide and the Chiefs hung on.

“It took all the time on the game clock to get this thing over with,” DuBuc said. “We’ve been in these games before, so these guys are well prepared for this.”