After 47 years of covering high school football, there are things that we are still learning about this game – and that was evident last Friday night.
When the evening began, South Florida had six programs still in play to get to this weekend’s state championships in Orlando.
With Champagnat Catholic (2A) and Chaminade-Madonna (3A) already punching their respective tickets to Camping World Stadium, there were four other schools that had the chance to make this a yearly 305/954 Central Florida takeover.
But after the dust settled and all the results were in, the takeover will be limited – and will not last over the three full days.
While there are four programs that are headed to Orlando, not having three-time defending state champion St. Thomas Aquinas, and an 8A representative on Saturday night will not feel the same.
To be honest, this year was filled with disappointments, and as Northwestern emerged from the pack in 6A, the very fact that Central didn’t return to state – with all that talent – was something that was a topic all year.
The Rockets played by far the most challenging schedule around, even spending over a week in Las Vegas. They were truly a team that disappointed – and their coaches have to feel the same way. That is school that now expects to be in the finals – and making the playoffs is no longer enough.
Speaking about true disappointments, we will start at the top in 8A. All the hype that was placed on defending 8A state champions Southridge and Deerfield, fizzled in a major way. Both failed to produce any offense and were early playoff casualties.
The next round of teams has to Miramar and Columbus. Both were dominating and should have been the two teams meeting last Friday for the right to represent the south, but that never happened and both failed to meet their own expectations.
Miami High, which very few picked at the start of the season, was a team that had the talent and coaching. But in the end, they made too many mistakes and failed to make plays in the end. They really looked like they haven’t been to the state finals in 52 years.
ST. THOMAS HAS SET STANDARDS
The Raiders are indeed the team that everyone felt would defend their three titles, but this was not a typical STA year. They looked horrible in Arizona and against Miramar, it was the worst performance in decades. And even in wins against Deerfield and John Bosco, they were an average team.
Although they had their problems, this is a program that you do not expect losing before they get to the state title game. They will reload and come back strong, but others have started to catch up – and that will make the job tougher.
There are really no teams in 5A to be upset with. Cardinal Gibbons played rock star football all year, and the job that head coach Matt Dubuc did, will keep the Chiefs in the spotlight for years to come.
There is no doubt that one of the biggest disappointments in South Florida was Booker T. Washington. The Tornadoes – which played a challenging schedule – ended the year as just another team, and for a program that dominated 4A for so many years – they were never a factor – and have already lost a number of quality underclassmen.
While many fans blamed it on not having a district, in the end, this program would never have beaten Cocoa – and the Tigers are the new obstacle in getting to Orlando.
What has happening in South Florida is a number of things. One of the main changes going on is that many of these youth coaches are now sending their kids to other programs – and not to just one or two.
In this day and age of internet and bragging rights, prospects want to be on the field from the start of the game and not sit on the bench – so what is happening is that more programs are getting better and becoming more competitive.
Programs such as Cardinal Gibbons (11-2, 5A), University School (9-2, 4A), Western (10-3, 8A), Doral Academy (10-2, 7A), Palmetto (8-2, 8A), Plantation (9-2, 8A), Norland (6-4, 6A), West Broward (9-3, 7A) and Monsignor Pace (8-3, 4A) are those who many are starting to watch. Programs who have made some major strides.
HEADED TO ORLANDO
It’s time for the schools that are playing for state championships to do their thing:
2A STATE CHAMPIONSHP SPOTLIGHT: Champagnat Catholic Lions (9-2) vs. Jacksonville University Christian Christians (10-2), Friday, Dec. 8, 10 a.m.
THE GAME: Here is a rematch of last year’s state title game – when the Christians beat head coach Dennis Marroquin last year. But this year has a different feel, and while University Christian is still very good, this Lions have thought about that loss every day.
3A STATE CHAMPIONSHP SPOTLIGHT: Chaminade-Madonna Lions (10-2) vs. West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy Thunderwolves (10-1), Saturday, Dec. 9, 10 a.m.
THE GAME: When everyone looked at the path to Orlando, this was certainly a matchup that everyone looked toward. Former regional foe, Oxbridge – 30 minutes from Chaminade – ended up in the north – and will provide stiff competition as a team loaded with quality athletes. The Lions lost to Jacksonville Trinity Christian in last year’s title game.
5A STATE CHAMPIONSHP SPOTLIGHT: Plantation American Heritage Patriots (12-0) vs. Baker County Wildcats (13-1), Friday, Dec. 8, 3 p.m.
THE GAME: The defending state champions extended their state best winning streak to 26 games – beating another quality opponent. The Patriots have not lost under head coach Pat Surtain. The Wildcats have also looked impressive this season – beating some quality teams along the way under head coach Jamie Rodgers.
6A STATE CHAMPIONSHP SPOTLIGHT:
Miami Northwestern Bulls (11-2) vs. Seffner Armwood Hawks (14-0), Friday, Dec. 8, 8 p.m.
THE GAME: This could be one of the best games of the weekend – with always talented Armwood – and first year head coach Evan Davis – battling another South Florida opponent. Coach Max Edwards and the Bulls began the season at No. 1 in South Florida – before losing to IMG and district foe, Norland.
Catch the South Florida High Sports Radio Show this Monday night (8-10) on WQAM (560AM). For the past 10 years, the players and coaches who are making the headlines, join the program. You will learn a lot!