ORLANDO – It’s not unusual for alumni to come back to support their school in big games.
While Carol City had a long list of football alumni that were in Orlando offering their support to the team on Saturday, one special guest strolled into their locker room at halftime.
Award-winning hip-hop recording artist and class of 1994 Carol City football alumnus Rick Ross visited with the Chiefs at halftime and offered words of encouragement to the team after playing to a scoreless tie with Lake Gibson.
All Carol City did after that was score 14 unanswered points and continue to put the clamps on the Braves’ offense for the final 24 minutes to capture a 14-6 win over Lake Gibson Saturday evening in the Class 6A state championship game in Camping World Stadium.
Lakeland Lake Gibson (13-1) was able to cut into Carol City’s lead midway through the fourth by capitalizing on a Chiefs fumble deep in their own territory – allowing the Braves to a short drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass.
The Braves tried to go on a potential game-tying drive with 3:50 left to play, but Carol City dashed their hopes when junior cornerback Irshaad Davis intercepted a Kevaris Thomas pass and allowed the Chiefs offense to run out the final minute.
Carol City, which defeated previous four-time defending Class 6A champ Miami Central during the regular season and knocked off rival Miami Northwestern in route to the state title, ended a 13-year championship drought Saturday. The Chiefs last won a state ring in 2003 under legendary coach Walt Frazier, who attended Saturday’s game in support of Carol City and Chiefs head coach Aubrey Hill, whom Frazier coached.
Hill called the feeling of being a champion “surreal’.
“It’s just a blessing to have this opportunity,” Hill said. “The team finished in the second half, those kids having fun; our fans loving it; our band rocking – it’s just a great feeling to be here right now.”
Hill, a Carol City alum who coached on the college level for 16 years before taking over as the Chiefs head coach in 2013, has almost single-handedly galvanized the Miami Gardens and brought its interest in and support of Carol City’s program to new level – evident by the nearly 3,000 fans that traveled to Orlando for the game.
“My vision was to bring a state championship back to the [Miami Gardens] community,” said Hill, who’s used social media platforms – including Facebook Live to stream directly from the Chiefs’ sideline – as a way to connect with fans. “Our goal is complete with winning this state title, but we still want more…we’re going to keep fighting to win more state championships. But for right now, we’re going to enjoy the night.”
But what about Rick Ross’ halftime speech?
“He was all fired up,” Hill spilled. “He told us ‘make sure we’re here in this moment and enjoying this moment’. And it really got us going in the second half.”
The second half belonged to sophomore running back Nay’quan “Monster” Wright.
Wright, who sustained a left leg injury in Carol City’s regular season game against Northwestern and hadn’t played up until Saturday’s final, came alive after halftime. He broke the scoreless tie midway through the third quarter with a 1-yard plunge into the endzone – having set up the scoring run with a 51-yard scamper on the previous play.
The Chiefs defense set up Wright’s second score. After a Zion Hartfield interception, which he returned to the Lake Gibson 7-yard line, Wright capped the short drive with another 1-yard dive into the endzone.
Wright said he’s waiting for the opportunity to come back and help his team.
“It was fantastic timing for me to come back and for my coaches to trust me to perform in the state game,” Wright said. “I was ready last week, but the coaches held me out. It was tough to deal with, so I just talked to God about it and He answered my prayers.”
“It just feels great to have all this support, the fans came up here strong and supported us…Rick Ross came to support us…and we didn’t want to let him down again since the last time he came to a game – we lost. So we wanted to make sure we won for him, the fans and the man above,” Wright added.
Having missed the extra point on their first touchdown, the Chiefs elected to go for two. They went with a bit of “trickeration” giving the ball to receiver Kevaughn Dingle on a double-reverse, and as the senior darted for the goal line he leaped into the air and flipped over a Lake Gibson defender into the endzone to put Carol City up 14-0 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Wright finished with 109 yards on 18 carries and junior running back Camron Davis, who served as Carol City’s primary ball-carrier while Wright was injured, added 75 yards on 13 carries.
Carol City’s 14 points probably felt doubly significant because of the way the Chiefs defense performed Saturday.
Lake Gibson only amassed 89 yards of total offense against the “Dawgs Defense”. Carol City also sacked Braves 6-foot-3, 250-pound quarterback six times and picked him off twice.
All season, Carol City’s defense has been handcuffing opposing offenses and making points hard to come by. The Chiefs held nine of its opponents this season to single digits – three shutouts – and won its past three playoff games by a combined score of 72-7.
Defensive coordinator Damon Cogdell is the chief reason for the defensive renaissance.
Cogdell, who led Miramar to two state championship game appearances and one title in 2000 as the Patriots’ head coach, ended up being the key addition to Carol City’s program. Cogdell joined Hill’s staff after spending three seasons at his college alma mater – West Virginia – as an assistant and upon his return to the high school ranks, quickly turned the Chiefs’ defense into one of the stingiest units in South Florida.
“This is an amazing feeling,” Cogdell said. “Coach Aubrey Hill welcomed me with open arms when I first came in. We all just worked together and we came out victorious – we got the gold.”