ORLANDO – Having one, extraordinarily dynamic player is sometimes enough to dance all the way to a championship.
Despite a 140-yard performance from running back Shaun Shivers, Chaminade-Madonna wasn’t able to overcome Jacksonville Trinity Christian’s methodical offense and its dynamic superstar D.J. Matthews as it fell 24-13 Saturday morning in the Class 3A state championship game in Camping World Stadium.
With the win, the Conquerors (11-3) became the fifth program in the modern era to win four consecutive state championships. Trinity Christian began its run in 2013 and has been a Class 3A power every year since.
Shivers, who had rushed for 620 yards and nine touchdowns in the Lions’ previous three playoff wins, showcased his elite track speed – taking a handoff 80 yards for a score on the first play of the game. After that long scamper, Trinity Christian began to bottle up the junior Auburn commit, as he gained just 60 yards for the rest of the game.
Trinity Christian, which racked up 280 total yards of offense, had two players finish with over 100 rushing yards. Matthews – who’s listed as a wide receiver – ran mostly out of the “wildcat” formation and finished with 101 yards and a second quarter 21-yard dash that gave the Conquerors a 21-10 lead – while Rasheed Martin led with 156 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Matthews also completed 5-of-8 passes for 58 yards and a touchdown pass.
Chaminade (10-4) was within striking distance early in the fourth quarter. After being aided by multiple penalties on Trinity Christian, the Lions were able to get down to the Conquerors 3-yard line. Two unsuccessful runs and a Colombi sack later, the Lions had to settle for a Daniel Longman 30-yard field goal and only cut the deficit to 21-13 instead of drawing closer with a touchdown with 11:55 left to play.
The Conquerors made it a two-possession game again on the ensuing drive after Frankie Onate nailed a 52-yard field goal – which was aided by a 5-yard running into the punter penalty, allowing Trinity Christian to attempt the kick instead of punting.
Chaminade-Madonna head coach Dameon Jones said it was turnovers – not so much what Trinity Christian did – that sunk his team Saturday.
“Like I said before, you cannot have turnovers…not in a state championship game,” Jones said. “We had two and when you have that many turnovers, you’re not going to be successful.”
“But at the end of the day, the core group comes back and we’re going to make another run at it next year. Our kids fought and got this experience…and now we’ll come back next year and try to get this done the right way,” said Jones, who took the reins of the Lions’ program a mere two days before the start of fall practice after the abrupt resignation of former coach Jason Milgrom.
The turnovers came in the form of two Henry Colombi interceptions. With Chaminade already trailing 14-10, Trinity Christian’s Shaun Wade made an acrobatic catch along the sideline on a Colombi pass and set up the Conquerors with a short field – which they turned into seven more points Matthews’ 21-yard scoring run.
Colombi’s final pass of the season ended up being picked off by Derrick Smith, allowing Trinity Christian to run out the clock.
Colombi, a Utah State commit, was sacked four times and only amassed 81 yards on 8-of-16 passing.
The game began to get chippy in the third quarter. On multiple occasions, players had to be separated after plays. And it reached a boiling point when Trinity Christian’s Chase Lasater ripped off the helmet of Chaminade offensive lineman Steven Jean-Baptiste and appeared to throw a punch. Lasater was ejected and the multiple personal fouls were issued to both teams.
Similar to Chaminade, Trinity Christian played a tougher schedule than its 3A classification would typically dictate. The Conquerors’ three losses this season came at the hands of this year’s Class 4A state champion Cocoa, Class 7A’s Tallahassee Lincoln, and independent powerhouse Bradenton IMG Academy. Trinity Christian also played against Class 2A state finalist Jacksonville University Christian – defeating the rival Duval County squad back in September.
Chaminade, also played against IMG Academy this season; as well as lining up against Class 8A’s Deerfield Beach, Flanagan and North Miami Beach and traveling to Class 5A’s Citra North Marion.
Jones, who previously served as head coach at Hallandale in two separate stints and stepped down from the post at the end of the 2015 season, hit the ground running with Chaminade – leading the program to its first football state championship game appearance in 11 years.
After the game, Chaminade’s handful of seniors offered consolation to their young teammates – most imploring the returning players to remember the feeling of losing and encouraging them to make a return trip to Orlando next December.
One of the those returning players, Shivers, stayed on the field – as the rest of his team went into the locker room – watching Trinity Christian receive the championship trophy.
“We’re just going to keep getting better,” Shivers said. “I love Coach Jones, he’s a great coach…he came in and did what he was supposed to do to get us here. This will help us a lot. A lot of the young guys played well today, but we still have to get better as a program. We will, and we will get back here next year.”