You can throw records and seedings out the window when it comes to the Champagnat Catholic Lions. While you’re at it, home field advantage makes little difference either.
A team that doesn’t even have a home field and plays all road games was once again right in its comfort zone on Friday night. One week after the Lions traveled to Moore Haven and dispatched the No. 1 seed 29-16, the Lions traveled to the west coast to take on No. 2 seed Naples St. John Neumann and came through again, winning 21-10 in a Region 4-2A final.
And with that, the defending 2A state champions, a team that struggled and looked completely disheveled during a sub-par 4-5 regular season and entered the playoffs as a No. 5 seed, have caught their stride at the perfect time and will now travel to St. Petersburg next week to take on Admiral Farragut in a 2A state semifinal.
“It was definitely a struggle as far as finding some kind of identity during the season but our kids did a great job of staying with the process and working through a lot of issues and are now seeing their hard work and determination pay off,” said Champagnat head coach Hector Clavijo. “The Neumann game was another great example of kids stepping up and making big plays in key moments.”
And no moment was bigger for Clavijo and the Lions when, leading 14-10 with less than five minutes to go and facing an fourth-and-three at their own 30, the head coach made a gutsy call and actually went for it.
“Our punting game is a struggle and I was thinking even if we punt, they’re probably going to get the ball near midfield anyway,” said Clavijo. “So I turned to Duke (running back Daryn “Duke” Jones) and told him ‘I need three’ and he said ‘I’ve got you coach.’ ”
And he did as Jones got more than three as he carried for 12 yards and a fresh set of downs. Five plays later, quarterback Malik Rutherford took off on a perfectly executed quarterback draw for a 25-yard touchdown with 2:45 left to seal the win.