Maybe it was a little bit of a hangover from such a big win over Columbus last week. Or maybe it was just the stormy rainy weather on Thursday night. Whatever it was, South Dade came out of the gate sluggish and played like it all night long.
But in the end, the Bucs, who moved to No. 4 in the Miami Herald’s Top 20 South Florida poll this week after the big win against the Explorers, did just enough to survive and pull out a 35-32 win over a fired up Norland team at Harris Field in Homestead.
And the Buccaneers needed a small miracle to do it.
After a turning the ball over on downs on the previous drive, the Bucs, trailing 32-29, were down to one timeout and Norland had just run for a first down to its own 40-yard line.
That’s when South Dade defensive end Terrell Battle made the biggest play of the night. He shot the gap and got in the backfield to disrupt a handoff causing a fumble.
“I read the play and knew what was coming,” said Battle, who has more than 15 scholarship offers, but has narrowed down his top three schools to Georgia, FIU and Pittsburgh. “I was able shoot a gap and disrupt the handoff. When I saw the ball on the ground I couldnt believe it. I just scooped it up and took off.”
He did more than that. He scooped up the ball and took off running, all the way down to the 2-yard line. Bucs running back Chezzy Mathews capped off his big night -- finished with 128 yards on 16 carries -- by scoring on the next play with 2:23 left.
The Vikings (1-3) got out to midfield before turning it over on downs as South Dade (4-0) remained perfect on the season.
“No doubt about it, there was a definite hangover from last week,” said South Dade head coach Nate Hudson. “I think our kids definitely learned from this tonight and fortunately didn’t have to pay the price with a loss. They found a way to come out on top, but also learned that when you’re on top, you become a target. Give credit to Norland, they came out fired up tonight and we didn’t match their energy. We showed a lot of grit in finding a way to come out on top but we can’t afford to do that again.”
Hudson watched as his team battled through an incredibly sloppy first half as South Dade fumbled twice, lost one, threw an interception and twice snapped the ball over the punter’s head.
The first errant snap, after the Bucs had taken an early 7-0 lead, resulted in a safety and Norland capitalized on a short field to score on a 25-yard pass from Charles Roberts to Jaden Williams, putting the Vikings ahead 9-7.
After the Bucs re-took the lead on a short Cayden Rule touchdown plunge, one play after Chezzy Mathews bolted 55 yards to the Norland two, South Dade made an unforgiveable error.
Just 45 seconds before halftime, another punt snap sailed high over Jaiden Francois’ head again giving the Vikings the ball at the Bucs’ 10. Four plays later, Tyrese McDonald kicked a 25-yard field goal as time ran out in the half cutting the South Dade lead to 13-12.
It only got worse from there. On the very first play of the second half, Williams dropped back and found Omari Stewart wide open for a 78-yard touchdown putting the Vikings up 18-13.
The deficit grew to 12 when Norland scored again when Williams, one play after he found Robert McMinn for 41 yards to the one, scored from a yard out to make it 25-13.
Even after South Dade scored on a Willie Thomas’ 10 yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 25-21 following a two-point conversion, the Vikings didn’t blink. Williams, who finished the night 10 of 16 for 235 yards and three touchdowns, marched his team right back down the field, hitting McMinn from 25 yards out to re-extend the lead to 32-21.
Back came the Bucs on an 8 yard scoring run by quarterback Kelvin Durham to cut it to 32-29 following the two point conversion with 8:41 left. When Harry Henderson picked off a Williams pass on the next drive at midfield, South Dade was primed to go in and take the lead. The Bucs reached the Norland 15 before a penalty, sack and incomplete pass put the ball back at the 30.
Trevon Sanders then took a perfectly executed reverse 30 yards to the end zone for what appeared to be the go-ahead score with 4:51 left, but a holding penalty, South Dade’s 14th infraction of the night, nullified the score and the Bucs turned it over on downs on the next play setting the stage for Battle’s heroics.