ORLANDO (SFHSSports) – It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.READ MORE: Woman Shot At The Landings In Pembroke Pines
So when Booker T. went into halftime trailing 10-7, with five turnovers and just 22 yards of offense, they weren’t dismayed.
The same way it wasn’t affected by its 5-5 regular season record.
Booker T. overcame six turnovers by relying on a stout defense and getting some big scoring plays in the second half to cap a four-game playoff winning streak with a 43-23 win over Jacksonville Raines Saturday night in the Orlando Citrus Bowl – the Tornadoes’ fourth straight Class 4A championship.
Raines led 23-22 early in the fourth quarter after August DiBiase connected with Dalvin Storey on a 25-yard touchdown pass, but Booker T. (9-5) scored the final three touchdowns of the game – a record-setting 92-yard scoring reception by Gustavious Dames and two fumble recoveries returned for touchdowns; one by Myron Morris and the other by Branden Tobar, which put the Tornadoes ahead 43-23.
Booker T. Washington head coach Earl Tillman said that even though his team went through a lot of adversity this season, he believe it happened for a reason.
“Everything in this world happens for a reason,” Tillman said. “These kids have been fighting all season. They fought through the adversity. People were counting us out. But no matter what, they were still coming to practice week in and week out – grinding, sticking together, believing in each other and showing a will to compete.”
“This is a phenomenal feeling. I think back to when I interviewed for the job and the principal asked me ‘coach do you think you’re ready for this?’ and I told him that I owed it to myself to be here; especially with how things went the first time I was the head coach. I wanted to keep the program going, keep the legacy going and do it for the community, the school and the kids,” Tillman added.
It was a quite a historic night for the Tornadoes.
Booker T. Washington becomes the first Miami-Dade County program to win four consecutive state championships. The Tornadoes, who won titles in 2012, 2013 and 2014, join two other teams that have achieved the feat in state history – Tallahassee North Florida Christian (1998-2001) and Live Oak Suwannee (1987-1990).
Miami Central can join the “four-peat” club next week when it faces Seffner Armwood in the Class 6A state championship game.
What sets the Booker T. apart and makes its four-year run even more impressive is that it is the first program to win three straight titles with three different coaches.
Tim “Ice” Harris Sr. led the team to back to back crowns in 2012 and 2013; then his son Tim Harris Jr. led the way in 2014, and Earl Tillman completed the trifecta Saturday.
Also, Booker T. Washington now leads Dade County for most football state championships won with five. Coral Gables, Central, Northwestern and Carol City each has four titles.
Even though Booker T. had its Dade County record 41-game winning streak broken at the start of the season, it still has another streak that’s intact. The Tornadoes haven’t loss to a Class 4A opponent since 2011 when they were defeated by Jacksonville Bolles in the state title game – winning 30 straight games in that span.
It didn’t look like the Tornadoes were going to reach those milestones the way things were going early on Saturday.READ MORE: Source: Prosecutors Grant Rep. Matt Gaetz’s Ex-Girlfriend Immunity
After Booker T. scored its first points of the night on a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by Marquis Decius with 2:24 left in the first quarter, Raines scored 10 unanswered points – both times capitalizing on Tornadoes turnovers.
Tornadoes 14-year-old freshman quarterback Daniel Richardson, who came into the state final game as Miami-Dade County’s leading passer for 2015 with 2,553 yards and 30 touchdown passes, appeared to be overwhelmed by the big stage and by Raines’ talented defense.
Richardson threw three first-half interceptions, including one right into the hands of Raines linebacker and University of Miami commit Michael Pinckney.
The freshman phenom, who was a youth league All-American, admitted after the game that his nerves got the best of him.
“I was kind of nervous at first. The big stage, the lights, it got to me a little,” Richardson said. “I had to calm down. My teammates rallied around me…they were telling me ‘smile, just smile’, because I wasn’t smiling and enjoying the game. Once I settled down, things started to turn around for us.”
After the shaky first half, Richardson put together a much better second stanza – as he ended up completing 11 of 25 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns along with four interceptions, his fourth pick was returned nine yards for a touchdown by Raines Jacquan Holt.
Dames’ 92-yard touchdown catch with 9:16 left in the fourth quarter was big, but it was senior Darrius “Jelly” Scott who finished with a game-high 100 receiving yards and a score on five receptions – his 46-yard touchdown grab and the subsequent two-point conversion gave Booker T. a 22-16 lead with 11:10 left in the fourth quarter.
While the Tornadoes’ defense gave up 483 yards of total offense, it did a great job of keeping the Vikings (12-2) out of the endzone. Raines was only able to score once in seven trips inside the Booker T. 20-yard line.
The Vikings had three drives that went down to the Tornadoes’ 1-yard line in the first quarter alone, but Booker T. turned them away each time with two turnover on downs and the Decius interception.
Booker T. also forced five turnovers – three fumbles and a pair of interceptions – and totaled two sacks.
Tillman and Richardson had to give credit to the “F-5 Defense”.
“I have to give a special shout out to my defensive coordinator Nitron Stork. That guy does a phenomenal job with these kids. He’s always prepared, he always has the defense prepared. The defense did a great job for us tonight,” Tillman said.
Said Richardson: “All week during practice they were picking me off and making it tough on our offense, so I knew they were going to have a great performance during this game.”
Once Booker T. took control of the game late, the small throng of announced crowd of 4,280 fans that were Tornadoes supporters began to go wild in the stands.
Tornadoes principal William Aristide summed up his school’s achievements perfectly.MORE NEWS: Fla. State Sen. Ileana Garcia On Critical Race Theory: 'I Have Been Discriminated On All Fronts. Should We Take It Personally?'
“I’m proud of the players and coaches for what they achieved here tonight – making history,” Aristide began. “Booker T. Washington, not the biggest – but the best.”