The best high school football is played in South Florida.
The trait that sets Miami-Dade and Broward county teams apart from the rest of the state – and the country – is speed. Speed that typically can’t be replicated by teams not hailing from the dual-county hotbed and speed that overwhelms opponents even on the biggest of stages.
It was Miles Jones’ speed that allowed him to blaze past Tampa Jesuit defenders for 208 total yards of offense and a pair of touchdowns to lead host Plantation American Heritage to a 21-14 victory Friday night in the Class 5A state semifinals.
The Patriots (13-0), who won consecutive Class 5A state titles in 2013 and 2014, will face Ponte Vedra next Friday in the Class 5A championship game – set to kick off at 3 p.m. at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium (formerly The Citrus Bowl).
Jones’ speed was on full display as he was able to turn short pass into a 67-yard score to put Heritage on the scoreboard first early in the second quarter and again early in the third quarter when he took an end-around handoff 70 yards for a score that put the Patriots ahead 21-0 not even two minutes into the third quarter.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound junior rushed for a team-high 101 yards on eight carries and caught four passes for a game-high 107 receiving yards – using his speed and agility to dart through and run away from Jesuit defenders.
Also, Heritage’s Laress Nelson caught five passes totaling 36 yards – including a 23-yard touchdown reception late in the second quarter. Running back Jordan Johnson finished with 71 rushing while quarterback Jason Brown completed 10 of his 13 passes for 157 yards.
American Heritage first-year head coach Patrick Surtain said he knew his team would have a decisive advantage in the game because of their speed.
“We knew our advantage lied in our overall team speed,” said Surtain, a former NFL All-Pro who previously served as Heritage’s defensive coordinator during its first two state championships before taking over for former head coach Mike Rumph.
“Our game plan was to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands and let them operate in space. Miles Jones is a [heck] of a player and he made some big plays for us [Friday]…the whole team did. We needed all 60 guys tonight – great team win.”
Tampa Jesuit (12-1) did try to make things interesting through the fourth quarter. The Tigers cut into the Patriots’ lead midway through the third quarter with a 2-yard Daniel Boon touchdown plunge.
Up 21-7 and having drove inside the Jesuit 10-yard line, Heritage missed on an opportunity to take another three-score lead when Abraham Alce fumbled the ball on the Tigers’ 5-yard line while fighting for extra yards.
Jesuit then turned the Patriots’ turnover into a 95-yard scoring drive, capped by another 2-yard surge by Boon, to cut Heritage’s lead to 21-14 with 4:03 left in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers tried an onside kick, but the Patriots recovered it and were able to grind the clock down to its final 32 seconds. American Heritage tried to totally seal the game by attempting a 28-yard field goal. Zack Thomson’s kick was blocked and Tampa Jesuit took over from its own 20 with 21 seconds left in the game.
After three incomplete passes, American Heritage’s Nesta Silvera crashed through Jesuit’s offensive line and sacked Boon to officially punch the Patriots’ ticket to Orlando.
“It’s a great thing for these seniors that have worked hard through their whole careers,” Surtain said. “Now we get to go to Orlando and get to compete for that ring – we want to win a ring for these guys.”
To secure their trip to Orlando, the Patriots had to slow down Tampa Jesuit star senior running back Malik Davis. The Florida commit broke Hillsborough County’s career rushing record earlier this season and rushed for 140 yards on 25 carries against the Heritage’s defense that was clearly keying on him all night.
While Tampa Jesuit was able to rush for 195 yards, the 14 points the Tigers scored was the by far the team’s lowest scoring output this season. The Tigers’ previous lowest output was 34 points in a regular season win.
With Friday’s performance, Davis ends his high school career with 7,025 rushing yards – good for 11th place all-time in Florida high school football history. Former Alabama running back and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry owns the record with his 12,124 yards accumulated from 2009-2012 at Yulee High School.
Jesuit head coach Matt Thompson, who consoled emotional players after the game, gave Davis high praise for what he was able to accomplish in his four years with the Tigers.
“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime type player,” Thompson said. “I hope I get another kid like that, but I seriously doubt it…it’s going to be hard to replace a person – not just football player – like Malik Davis.”
American Heritage, which spent much of the second half of the regular season ranked as the No. 1 team in the SFHSSports Top 25 Poll, remains the only unbeaten team in South Florida and will be one of six teams from either Miami-Dade or Broward County that’ll play for a state championship next weekend.
“We’re going to approach the [state championship game] the way we’ve approached all of our games this season,” Jones said. “We’re going to prepare, practice and go execute. We don’t take any teams for granted. But we’re confident whenever we step on the field…whenever big games come up – that we’ll be able to bring it home.”