ORLANDO – According to the big book of sports adages: defense is supposed to win championships.
Unfortunately for Champagnat Catholic, it didn’t hold true.
Despite a valiant effort from its defense, Champagnat’s offense gained just 107 total yards and turned the ball over five times as Jacksonville University Christian turned two of those turnovers into 14 points and capitalized on a Lions special teams miscue to spark 24-8 victory Friday morning in the Class 2A state championship game in Camping World Stadium.
University Christian’s win Friday places it in a tie with Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas for second place all-time for total state championships won with nine – behind leader Jacksonville Bolles (11). Aquinas, however, can reclaim sole ownership of the second spot if it wins the Class 7A title Friday night.
Champagnat only trailed 3-0 through halftime and into the final minute of the third quarter. With 40 seconds left in the third, the Lions attempted a punt – one of nine on the day – but Daryn Jones’ kick was deflected as it ricocheted off the backside of one of the teammates who was blocking for him.
The kick wobbled a few yards and was picked up by University Christian senior linebacker Leon Huey, who returned it 27 yards for a touchdown – putting the Fighting Christian’s up 10-0 and creating an insurmountable hole for the Lions to climb out of.
Champagnat (11-2) still had a chance of making things interesting early in the fourth quarter. After forcing University Christian to punt, Lions senior defensive back DeVante Mitchell blocked the kick and receiver Greg Rousseau scooped up the ball and returned it to the Fighting Christian’s 1-yard line.
The Lions’ drive got off to a bad start, taking a delay of game penalty – moving them back to the six – then fumbling the ball over to University Christian. University Christian ended up giving the ball back to Champagnat while trying to return the fumble, but the Lions ended up throwing an interception two plays later.
For Champagnat, the loss squashes the program’s hopes of becoming the first Miami-Dade County private school to win multiple football state championships. The Lions won the Class 2A title in 2013 under former head coach Mike Tunsil.
Head coach Dennis Marroquin said he felt his team “beat itself” Friday.
“I think our youth on offense showed a lot today,” said Marroquin, who led the Lions to a state title in just his second season at the helm. “Up front we made mistakes and then it was turnover after turnover – and it just killed us. I really think we beat ourselves. Turnovers always come back to haunt you.”
“I’m proud of my boys. We worked really hard all year to get to this point. We had six freshmen starting on offense – including a quarterback who had never started a varsity game before this year. Obviously, we wanted to get the W, but I’m still proud of my boys,” Marroquin said.
University Christian took a 24-0 lead late in the fourth quarter on a fumble return for a score by Huey, but Champagnat was able to avoid the shutout by capping a 4-play, 50-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Johnquai Lewis.
Champagnat’s offense was only able to manufacture nine first downs, with four of them coming from penalties on University Christian. The Lions finished with negative (-42) rushing yards and barely averaged two yards gained per play.
Quarterback Kevin Dessources finished 15-of-37 for 149 yards with the late touchdown. He was officially sacked three times, but took on massive pressure from the University Christian defense. Lewis finished with 45 receiving yards and Jahani Wright caught four passes for 21 yards.
University Christian’s offense struggled to find operating room against the Lions defense though. The Fighting Christian’s typically potent offensive attack was held to just 139 yards on 46 attempts. UC quarterback Clayton Boyd led with 51 yards and scored the team’s only offensive touchdown – a 5-yard push that was set up by a fake punt.
Champagnat freshman linebacker Jesus Machado finished with a game-high 15 tackles Friday – including two and a half tackles for loss and he recorded the Lions’ only sack. Junior linebacker Donovan Georges totaled 10 tackles while DeVante Mitchell and Isaiah Sharpe each recorded interceptions.
Machado, who already holds offers from Alabama and Miami, said that the defense never got discouraged even though the Lions’ offense struggled mightily.
“We just kept playing hard and we kept our heads up,” Machado said. “We weren’t going to give up as a defense just because [University Christian] scored. We had to keep playing.”
For a school with an enrollment of a mere 160 students, Champagnat has appeared in two football state championship games and owns a 2000 boys’ basketball crown.
Since starting its varsity football program in 2010, Champagnat has made the playoffs four times – 2011 through 2013 and 2016 – and impressively, the Lions have played for a state title twice already.
Marroquin said he’s encouraged by the youth of his program.
“We have a lot of young kids…a lot,” Marroquin said. “We have to keep working and keep building. Every year is a rebuilding year in South Florida. We just have to stick together and we’ll be in position to get back here.”