Rich Stuart started feeling the love and support even before the clock hit all zeroes.
Stuart said he’s had those from the Belen Jesuit community since he helped begin football at the school more than three decades ago.
“There’s nothing like this place and no place like it in the world,” Stuart said as he fought back tears. “It’s just a family with five generations that have come here, and I’m just so grateful to all of them and my coaches. It’s all really hitting me right now.”
Stuart was carried off the field at Tropical Park Stadium triumphantly by his players Saturday evening following the Wolverines’ 51-28 victory over Braddock.
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The win was the 214th in Stuart’s career, giving him the most in Miami-Dade County as he surpassed the previous mark held by former Miami Beach and Palmetto coach Jim Kroll — and two more than legendary former Carol City coach Walt Frazier.
“I keep in touch with all my former players and coaches from back when we started,” Stuart said. “We grew up and did things the right way, and it’s really special.”
Stuart’s career record improved to 214-138.
The win moved his team a little closer to securing the school’s 15th playoff appearance in the past 17 seasons.
Led by running back Giancarlo Pinto’s 115 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries, Belen (5-3, 4-0 in District 15-8A) needs only a win against Coral Reef on Friday at Southridge to win the district championship for the second consecutive season and fifth time under Stuart.
If Belen loses to Coral Reef, it still could play for the district title in a three-way tiebreaker if Southwest defeats Braddock next week.
Braddock (4-4, 2-2) needs a win over Southwest and a Coral Reef loss to stay alive and force a tiebreaker with those teams for the district’s runner-up playoff berth.
“We wanted this one for Coach since the summer,” Pinto said. “We needed to make sure we could do this for him and we’re so happy to be a part of it. This turnout shows how much he means to our community.”
Pinto set the tone with three first-half touchdowns as Belen took a 31-7 lead by halftime.
Belen amassed 396 yards rushing and had 10 players run the football overall as Mario Robaina had 92 yards and Gabriel Estrada and Daniel Arrastazu each scored touchdowns.
Belen spent most of the second half trading scores with Braddock, which prevented the rout from getting worse thanks to the combination of quarterback Angel Alvarez and all-purpose athlete Alex Victor. Alvarez completed 17 of 30 passes for 302 yards and threw four touchdown passes — three of which went to Victor, who finished with six catches for 185 yards.
Stuart, who became Belen’s coach in 1983 at the age of 24 and went 3-7 that season, has seen the Wolverines evolve into a consistent playoff contender that is respected no matter the opposition.
Belen won its first district title in 2005 and over the next few seasons would begin defying the odds and beating some of the county’s better programs, including Miami Northwestern, Booker T. Washington, Miami Norland, Jackson and Edison.
The highlight came in 2009 when Belen made its lone appearance in a state championship game before losing to Pensacola High.
Stuart holds dear a statistic that reflects his players’ success off the football field as he has had 17 players go on to compete in Ivy League schools and numerous others at all levels of colleges.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought this would happen,” Stuart said. “I thought I’d coach a few years and see what happens. This is still lots of fun for me, and as long as it keeps being fun I will keep doing it.”