ORLANDO (SFHSSports) – The familiar football adage says that defenses win championships.
Flanagan has one of the state’s most talented and stingiest defenses.
So the adage rings true again.
The “Dirty Bird” Defense allowed just 211 yards of offense and came up with multiple late-game stops as Flanagan manufactured a 26-7 win over Kissimmee Osceola Saturday night in the Class 8A state final – the Falcons’ first football championship in school history – in front of 4,550 fans in the Orlando Citrus Bowl.
Flanagan’s defense stopped the Kowboys (13-2) for most of the night so it was only fitting that two defensive players make the key play on the offensive side of the ball.
With his team holding a 14-7 lead and facing a third down from the 21-yard line, Junior defensive back Faion Hicks took a handoff around the right side; used a big block from senior linebacker Devin Bush Jr. and rumbled into the endzone putting the Falcons ahead 20-7 – after a missed extra point – with 1:37 left in the game.
Then Flanagan’s defense put the final stamp on the game when Stanford “ Lil Boosie” Samuels stepped in front of an Isaiah Wilson pass and returned it 27 yards for a score – giving the Falcons their final 26-7 lead.
Falcons head coach Devin Bush was emotional after the game, hugging players and coaches and a few special friends – including NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks.
“We did it, we did it,” said Bush, who won a college national championship and Super Bowl during his playing career and now has a state championship as a coach. “This is the best feeling. To put all that work in and get the job done means so much.”
“This means everything. It was a goal that we set. It was something that we put a lot of belief into and worked towards and we did it…it’s done.”
As Bush tried to put the win into words, his son Devin Bush Jr. came over and the two shared an emotional embrace.
“The moment that I just shared with my son and the rest of these boys…money can’t buy it. It’s so unreal,” Coach Bush said.
Bush’s namesake and recipient of the pregame Marian C. Krutulis Scholar Athlete award – given to the player with the highest grade-point average on the team; said his dad deserved to win a state ring.
“I’m going to take the moment I shared with him with me wherever I go. I don’t believe I’ll ever have a better coach than my dad,” Bush Jr. said. “We worked for three years. We worked so hard and sacrificed so much. The coaches and the players…nobody deserved it more than us.”
Flanagan made school history just appearing in the state title game, but they wanted and got more.
Osceola came into Saturday’s game averaging 386 rushing yards per contest, but the “Dirty Bird” Defense was ready for the Kowboys’ run-heavy “flex bone” offense.
The Kowboys got 99 rushing yards from senior Laderrien Wilson and 57 yards from Malcolm Davidson – 45 of which he got on a first quarter touchdown, Osceola’s lone touchdown on the night.
Coach Bush said that his team was well-prepared for the Kowboys.
“We knew we’d fare well against them,” Bush said. “We were in the wrong alignment on that long touchdown run that they got. I guess we needed them to score that touchdown for the game to have the kind of drama it did there at the end. But we’re ready for everything they were going to do and the defense stepped up and did what we expected of them all season.”
Bush Jr. finished with seven tackles but safety Devin Gil led with a team-high 12 total tackles and Jordan Eubanks added 10 tackles and one and a half sacks. Also, Fabian Gordon, Jahvari Bourdeau and Dwayne Boyles all finished with seven tackles.
Flanagan’s offense struggled early though.
Quarterback Kato Nelson threw two first half interceptions – but he made plays with his arm and his legs when the team needed it.
Trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, the Falcons capitalized on good field position following a poor Osceola punt, when Nelson connected with Jahcour Pearson on a 36-yard touchdown pass to even the score at 7.
The turning point of the game came right before the halftime buzzer. Backed up deep in its own territory, Flanagan went on a 93-yard drive that was capped by a 22-yard touchdown reception by Pearson.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound receiver caught a pass coming across the middle of the Kowboys defense, dodged a handful of Osceola defenders and darted into the endzone for a touchdown with 0:30 seconds left in the half.
Pearson hauled in a game-high seven passes for 90 yards with two touchdowns, while Isaiah Collins and Dredrick Snelson, who won his fourth ring with his third school Saturday, each had three receptions for 43 and 14 yards respectively. Nelson, who won a Class 2A title with Champagnat in 2013, finished 16 of 27 for 201 passing yards and ran for a team-high 64 yards.
“This feels great, we completed the sweep,” said Pearson, referring to how Flanagan was the fourth South Florida (Miami-Dade or Broward) team to win a state championship team in the past two weeks.
“We faced a lot of adversity through the season. This was our goal – to win a state title – since the summer and we did it – mission complete. Dirty Bird football, we’re a family. We’ll be ever immortalized in Flanagan history.”
While Flanagan has won state titles before and be dominant in other sports – mostly baseball – the Falcons football team had a meteoric rise through the South Florida football ranks to become one of the more respected programs the area; something that’s not lost on Bush Sr.
“Little old Flanagan, little old Flanagan,” Coach Bush said. “We came to a big stage and gave our fans something to cheer about…this is great for our community.”
“We got a ring.”