While they may be mired in relatively mediocre seasons, that didn’t mean Friday night’s contest between long-time rivals Miami High and Coral Gables didn’t have plenty of importance.
Just two of three teams in District 15-8A, the Stingarees and Cavaliers had important business to tend to as both are sitting right on the wild-card playoff bubble in Region 4-8A, still chasing Columbus for first place in the district.
When it was over, it was Miami that recorded a big win as the Stingarees, on the strength of quarterback Makai Lovett and defensive end Patrick Payton, came through with a 22-14 victory at Tropical Park.
Lovett did damage with both his feet and arm as he ran for 68 yards on the ground, and completed 6 of 14 passes for 134 yards, including a pair of long touchdown passes — 31 and 48 — to Samaurie Dukes.
Meanwhile Payton, a four-star prospect in the Class of 2021 with multiple offers on the table, dominated on the defensive side of the ball recording a sack, his 11th of the year along, with 10 tackles, four tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
“We came out tonight and almost kind of treated this like a playoff game because we knew it was important for us,” said Payton, who has offers from the Miami Hurricanes, Florida State Seminoles and Georgia Bulldogs, and said he will make his decision next spring. “The key tonight was to stay disciplined and play good assignment football because they hit you with a lot of misdirection stuff so it’s important to stay home and make all of our tackles.”
The win moved MHS to 5-2 overall and 1-1 in the district. If Gables upsets Columbus when they meet in two weeks it would leave the three teams in a three-way tie for first and RPI points would determine the winner.
But regardless, the Stings are in great shape to even make it as a wild card as they were ranked No. 7 out of eight teams when the first RPI rankings came out this week and they might move up another spot after Friday’s win.
It also snapped a two-game losing skid following a 45-18 loss to Columbus and a 7-6 upset defeat at the hands of Jackson last week.
“I watched the kids all week and could sense the urgency in practice,” Miami coach Corey Smith said. “After the disappointing loss to Columbus, we might’ve had a letdown against Jackson and I saw the eyes of Makai and Pat and they weren’t going to let us down tonight.”
With driving rain at the start of the game hampering both teams, the first half was a little on the sloppy side. The only score was a 31-yard strike from Lovett to Dukes on Miami High’s second possession, a score set up by Payton’s fumble recovery. Leading 8-0 at the half, the Stings stunned Gables on the first play of the second half when Lovett again dropped back and found Dukes for a 48-yard strike and made it 16-0 when Lovett ran in the two point conversion for a second time.
Gables (3-5) started to get back in the game when the Cavaliers, led by quarterback Tyous Taylor put together a long drive late in the third quarter going 82 yards in 14 plays. Running back Maurice Jones capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run with 2:37 left in the third.
Oddly, Gables coach Roger Pollard chose to kick the extra point rather than go for two to make it a one possession game leaving the score at 16-7.
The Cavaliers had two possessions in the fourth quarter that made it into MHS territory but one ended in a punt and the second on downs when Michael Sherill made a nice tackle on a fourth-and-five screen pass.
The Stings took over at midfield with 7:02 left and then proceeded to chew up most of the remainder of the clock with a long drive. Ghana Oboh, who finished with 64 yards on 18 carries, scored from 14 yards out with 1:16 left to make it 22-7. Taylor, who finished 16-of-25, 151 yards, put a quick drive together hitting Derrick Cruse for a 25 yard score with 29 seconds left to cut it to eight before an onside kick failed.
“We knew we just had to come here tonight, step up to the plate and get it done,” said Lovett. “We know we’re right in the playoff hunt and winning a game like this really puts us right in the thick of things.”