If this was a playoff “tune-up” for Coral Gables, then the Cavaliers still need to tinker underneath the hood.
That’s the quick take following Gables’ 30-19 win over rival Southwest on Friday night at Tropical Park.
Gables’ offense did little early, its defense struggled late, and penalties — 18 of them for 150 yards — were a constant all night.
The Cavaliers (8-2) face North Miami next week in a Class 8A regional quarterfinal, and Gables coach Roger Pollard admitted he’s apprehensive.
“We’re not ready at all,” said Pollard, one day before his birthday but not really in a celebratory mood. “In the first half [with a 14-0 lead], we looked like a playoff team. But penalties — I think we may have set a record tonight.”
Gables’ offense was bogged down by six holding penalties, three of which negated touchdown runs by Amir Rasul, two of them longer than 50 yards.
The Cavaliers’ defense gave up three touchdowns in the final 14 minutes, allowing Southwest to get back in the game.
And the special teams failed to cover an onside kick and had its punter drop a snap for a turnover.
There were positives for Gables, however, including three first-half interceptions by the defense, two of them by Wendell Ashley.
The special teams came up big in the first half with a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown, and the offense recovered in the second half.
“It’s hard to get into the end zone 10 times,” Pollard said, alluding to his team’s scores and the ones that were called back.
Still, if Gables can defeat North Miami, it could get a chance to avenge its only losses — to Columbus and Killian — in the following two playoff rounds.
Southwest (8-2), which had its six-game win streak snapped on Friday, also is preparing for an 8A regional quarterfinal next week against Killian.
On this night, though, Gables proved to be too much for Southwest — as is usually the case in a series that dates to 1958. Gables leads the series 45-3-1, although Southwest did manage recent wins in 2011 and 2012.
Still, next week will mark Southwest’s fourth consecutive year in the playoffs, which is substantial progress for an Eagles program that had endured many years of losing before this run of success.
Gables is also on an upswing, reaching the state semifinals last year for the first time since 1985. It is now five big wins away from its first state title since 1968.
The Cavaliers’ defense set the tone early, intercepting two Deundre Pickett-White passes in the first quarter.
The first interception, which was returned to the Southwest 11 by Ashley, led to an 11-yard touchdown run around right end on the next play by quarterback Voshon Waiters.
Gables’ special teams provided the next spark when Shakur Cooper blocked a 38-yard field goal try by Antonio Garcia. The ball bounced up to Kevin Romer in full stride, and the sophomore ran it back 53 yards for a touchdown
Waiters finally got the Gables offense untracked in the third quarter. Waiters hit wide receiver Shaquery Wilson with a perfect strike down the middle of the field for a 36-yard touchdown. `
Rasul, frustrated all night by those penalties, then took a lateral on the left side and ran 67 yards for a touchdown and a 27-0 lead.
Southwest finally scored with 2:48 left in the third quarter as Pickett-White scrambled 8 yards for a touchdown.
After a successful onside kick, Southwest drew to within 27-13 on a 13-yard run by Trevon Sands, but Gables was able to hold off the Eagles.