State championship weekend has come and gone for another year, leaving eight champions crowned, and another eight wondering what went wrong in their final game of the season. Here’s just some of the most memorable moments that stood out in our minds from the eight games played over the weekend.
Woah, there was only one running clock game?
Yes, yes, this year’s finals were certainly different than last season’s, where many games finished quickly thanks to a running clock early in the game. In the 2015 finals, the average margin of victory was 27.5 points. This season, that number was down to 12.8. The only game that didn’t follow that trend was the 7A Final on Saturday night between nationally ranked St. Thomas Aquinas and Plant (Plant lost 45-6, running clock in the third). Even University Christian, who trounced Cambridge Christian last year, putting 60-plus points on the board, only defeated Champagnat Catholic 24-8. It made for much more competitive games, ones that actually felt there was something actually on the line.
Nay’Quan Wright made the difference for Carol City.
According to reports out of Miami, Wright hadn’t played in over a month before Saturday’s 6A final against Lake Gibson. The senior running back certainly didn’t look like he hadn’t played in that amount of time. He broke a 51-yard run before powering through the Braves’ defensive line for a 1-yard score in the third. He did the same thing at the beginning of the fourth, accounting for both Chief touchdowns in the victory. Wright’s final totals in the game was 109 rushing yards on 18 carries with the pair of touchdowns.
The Cocoa got hot at the right time.
When Clearwater Head Coach Don Mesick scheduled Cocoa for their Kickoff Classic opponent, he ‘wanted a tougher opponent,’ when he told Bob Putnam of the Tampa Bay Times after they lost 34-7. I don’t think he may have expected this. The Tigers only loss on the season was to Las Vegas Bishop Gorman in Sin City, winning their next ten in route to their fourth state championship in school history. Cocoa handled Bolles and had 425 total yards to the Bulldogs 234, which prevented Bolles from achieving their 11th state championship. The Tigers attempted one pass on the night, while three running backs had over 120 rushing yards in the victory.
Trinity Christian flexed their muscles in their four-peat.
Conquering is something they do pretty well, especially in their victory against Chaminade-Madonna on Saturday morning. The Conquerors are only the fifth team in FHSAA history to win four state championships in a row, and this one took a little time. Things got interesting with referee calls on a fake field goal attempt that Chaminade-Madonna turned into a touchdown, but it was called back. Chase Lasater was ejected for throwing punches on a Lion. Rasheed Martin’s 156 rushing yards and D.J. Matthews’ 159 total yards highlighted what was a defensive battle for the majority of the game.
Explosiveness was also needed in that 3A game.
One more thing about Trinity Christian – Chaminade-Madonna and then I’m done, promise. Shaun Shivers broke an 80-yard rush on the first play from scrimmage for the Lions, and then Martin almost took one for to the house on the first play from scrimmage for Trinity Christian, rushing 45-yards before he was tackled. It certainly woke the sleepy crowd up and primed everyone for an entertaining game.
Miami Southridge gave us the most exciting last quarter of football we could’ve ever wished for.
In the last quarter of the 2016 season, Southridge came into it down 10-0 to Dr. Phillips. The Panthers had been oppressive in the time of possession battle, and the Spartans just couldn’t get anything together on offense until they knocked 3:28 off the clock through a 14-play drive. Michael Cox’s jump-ball on fourth-and-goal found Jordan Dillard from 8-yards away. Dr. Phillips melted 2:30 off the clock before Southridge got another chance on offense. They had just about six minutes to score. The Spartans only needed 1:36. Cox found Mark Pope, who took it 73 yards for the game winning score in the intense final game of the season.
The firepower of St. Thomas Aquinas is legitimate.
We tip our caps to Plant for making it to the 7A Final. It’s certainly not an easy feat. St. Thomas Aquinas was just a little bit better than them. STA QB and Florida commit Jake Allen had an incredible performance for the Raiders, who won their third consecutive state championship on Friday night. He compiled 329 passing yards and five big touchdowns in the victory. Three of those went to Michael Harley, who just recently announced he would commit to either Miami (FL) or West Virginia, depending on who won the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando. Josh Palmer (80 yards, TD) also looked very good, just like Jordan Merrill (60 yards, TD).
Ponte Verde’s fast start may have hurt them in the end against American Heritage.
The Sharks got out to a quick 13-0 start that got everyone thinking, ‘will we see an upset?’ Nationally ranked American Heritage came right back with 21 unanswered points in the first quarter and a half, but Ponte Verde did not give up. However, the quick start in the first quarter may have set the Patriots on fire in route to their third state championship in four years. Nick Tronti played especially well, with 265 passing yards and three touchdowns for the Sharks. Marshall Few had 154 of those yards and two of those touchdowns. American Heritage’s 278 rushing yards – more than four times that of Ponte Verde, set them apart in the victory.
The Boss showed up.
No, no, not Bruce Springsteen, but Rick Ross showed up with his tour bus and all to Camping World Stadium on Saturday night near halftime of the Carol City – Lake Gibson 6A Final. Ross is a Carol City alumni, and came to support his Chiefs win their first state championship since 2003. After showing up late in the second quarter, Carol City scored 14 unanswered points until Lake Gibson scored in the fourth. To top it all off, the multi-award winning rapper jumped in the handshake line to shake hands with some of the Braves after the clock ticked down to zero.
Don’t forget about our coverage from six of the eight games from championship weekend.
2A – University Christian def. Champagnat Catholic 24-8.
3A – Trinity Christian def. Chaminade-Madonna 24-13.
5A – American Heritage def. Ponte Vedra 35-33.
6A – Carol City def. Lake Gibson 14-6.
7A – St. Thomas Aquinas def. Plant 45-6.