Moments before Friday night’s Class 2A state semifinal at Curtis Park, Champagnat Catholic head football coach Dennis Marroquin talked about the many firsts his team experienced this season.
After a 14-3 win over St. Petersburg Northside Christian, the second-year head coach can add another.
Coming in as an underdog at home to former Tampa Bay Bucs standout Mike Alstott and his Mustangs (10-3), the Lions (11-1) did what they have all season: playing sound defense and coming up with timely plays to win the game and head to the Class 2A state championship in two weeks in Orlando against Jacksonville University Christian.
“We knew going into the game that we were playing a good team that had plenty of seniors and a lot of experience,” said Marroquin, who helps send this school to the state championship for the second time ever. “But we also realized that when looking at their game films from this year that they had not played a team with this much team speed. That is where we knew that we had the advantage.”
Northside Christian looked dominant in the first half. The Mustangs were all over Lions quarterback Kervin Dessources, with five sacks and holding Champagnat to 29 total yards. But they could never get anything going on offense.
With neither team being able to move the ball – the Mustangs got on the board in the second quarter when Caleb Yawn made a 41-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead into half.
In the second half, it was more of Northside Christian making mistakes and turning the ball over – and a young Lions’ squad looking for ways to stay in the game and cut into the lead.
With 3:51 left in the third quarter, freshman Mark Britt, who came up huge all night, took in a scoring pass from Dessources from 30 yards out and things started to get interesting at 7-3.
“It was those young kids who came through all year, that made the difference for us tonight,” Marroquin said. “Britt, Gregory Rosseau and just about everyone else on this team stepped up for us.”
The Lions added to their lead with 9:24 left in the game when Desources tossed a scoring pass from just 5-yards out to 6-foot-5 Rosseau.
On defense, junior Donovan Georges, freshman Jesus Machado, Sean Bowie, Devante Mitchell, Tyrik Robinson and many others made a difference.
As well as Champagnat Catholic played, Northside Christian also helped the cause with fumbles and penalties that cost them scoring opportunities and field position. The two teams combined for 34 penalties and over 300 yards.
Griffin Alstott had 249 passing yards and highly-recruited running back Marcus Hooks had 87 yards rushing.
The Lions defense came up with an interception, three fumbles and nine sacks to end the Mustangs’ season.
For a team that nobody paid attention to all season, winning some games by surprisingly close margins, the end result is that for the first time since 2013, when the Lions beat Lakeland Victory Christian 14-7 for its first state crown.
The quarterback for that team, Kato Nelson, was there on Friday, cheering the young Lions on.
“Great to see this,” the Akron University freshman said. “Just like when we got to state, nobody believed. Tremendous win for this program.”