For the first time in his young head coaching career, Javier Valdes got what he probably wanted so badly — a water cooler bath.
Valdes was soaking wet on the sidelines at Curtis Park on Friday night and didn’t mind one bit as his Mater Academy Lions were busy celebrating in the waning seconds of their 28-9 watershed moment win over Miami Springs in a key District 16-7A showdown.
A program just a decade old, the victory clinched Mater’s first-ever playoff berth while at the same time eliminated Miami Springs, a team that was 6-0 just a week ago, from playoff contention. It also leaves them in a tie for first in the district with American setting up a winner-take-all showdown game next Thursday at Milander Stadium.
So emotional was Valdes, it took him a few minutes to compose himself before being able to talk after the game.
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“This was such a long time coming not only for me but this program,” said Valdes, who spent years working as an assistant before getting his first head coaching job at Mater last year. “I worked so hard to become a head coach and it’s just so great to be here and in this moment. I love those kids over there. They’re a tough bunch. I put them through the ringer, I tested them and this is the result of a lot of hard work.”
It also exorcised a few demons for Valdes and his players as the pain from a 35-34 overtime loss to Springs a year ago with the same stakes on the line made for a long offseason.
“I told the kids before the game that it’s been just almost a year to the day that we felt that pain and that we had worked an entire year for this moment,” said Valdes, who saw his team improve to 6-2, 5-0. “That we had another opportunity tonight and not to let it slip away again. These kids have worked so hard believing in me, believing in the program and helping to change the culture. This is a big corner to turn tonight.”
Thanks to an effective three-headed running back combination of Kevin Sanchez, Daniel Doriscar and Steven Rodriguez, Mater controlled the ball on the ground all night long. The three combined for 265 of Mater’s 289 rushing yards with Sanchez leading the way with 97 on 13 carries.
After Springs (6-2, 3-2) took a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter, the Lions answered Springs’ scoring drive by going 50 yards in just five plays, the big payoff being a 38-yard touchdown pass from T.J. Harrington to Doriscar on third-and-26 to put them up 7-3.
Two more touchdown runs, by Harrington and Doriscar, had Mater up 28-3 midway through the fourth quarter which allowed for an early celebration.