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South Florida High School State Semifinal Preview

By Marcus Benjamin @_benjaminmoney

Last Friday simply had it all.  Starting in the afternoon with Miami High coming back from 22 points down to take down Miami Columbus and ending the day with the game of the year in American Heritage (Plantation) edging Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale) in three overtimes.  It’s been a great season with plenty of surprises and storylines.  We have seen a resurgence of programs (Miami, Northwestern, Atlantic), sustained dominance (St. Thomas Aquinas, American Heritage) and teams determined to get back to the state final (Chaminade-Madonna, Cocoa).  It’s been a magical ride for some teams and naturally all great things do come to an end…but for some the end is in Orlando.

Miami High (12-1) has awakened from the depths of South Florida high school football with a storybook season to remember.  Much how the Stingarees were down big late in the 3rd quarter, no one gave this Miami team a chance to go anywhere this season.  Lead by a new coaching staff, Miami is one win away from punching their ticket to Orlando for the 8A state championship game, a place they have not been since 1965.  

How Did They Get Here?

We first started to take notice when they battled South Dade power Columbus back in September in a 21-20 loss.  Johnny Ford, who is the workhorse for the Stingarees averaging 98.5 yards rushing per game, returned a kick 95 yards for score with 3:36 left.  Columbus would block the extra point that would prove to be the difference in their only loss of the season.  In the following week Miami survived a five overtime classic over Coral Gables 55-48.  Ford scored five touchdowns in a game where fans saw the Cavaliers four game win streak come to an end on a Leslie Smith sack on Gables quarterback on 4th and goal.  Miami opened up their playoff run with a sound 28-0 victory over Miami Palmetto.  It was their first playoff victory since 2000 and only postseason shutout in their history.  The boys from Little Havana continued their run with a 27-21 victory over the defending state champion Southridge Spartans.  Ford set up the game winning score with a 70-yard kick return in the fourth quarter.

Atlantic (Delray) (11-1) is in the state semifinals for the first time since 2002 and are seeking a state championship appearance for first time since 1978.  After losing in the regional finals in back to back years to teams from Broward (Deerfield Beach, Flanagan), Atlantic defeated cinderella story Western (Davie) 35-22.  The Eagles are currently riding an 11-game win streak.

How Did They Get Here?

Quarterback Antoine Williams threw four interceptions in a season opening one point loss to Palm Beach Central 14-13.  The Eagles would bounce back with a 21-12 win over local foe Dwyer to start their 11-game run.  They were able to overpower Plantation in the first round 29-14 behind two touchdowns by running back Shelley Singletary.  The defense, which has carried the Eagles all season continued their dominance with a 14-7 win to propel them to the regional final.  The Atlantic defense has allowed an average 7.1 points per game during the regular season but 14.3 during the playoffs.  


Both teams are on historic runs and face off in the only Tri-County vs. Tri-County matchup on Friday in Delray.  Defense has been strong for both teams and I think the team that can take care of the ball will come out with the victory in a close game.  

Miami High 21, Atlantic 20

St. Thomas Aquinas (11-2) surprisingly have looked vulnerable this season while in pursuit of a fourth straight 7A state championship.  The Raiders are going for their 11th state title which is tops in South Florida.  St. Thomas has not lost a playoff game since losing to Dwyer in 2013.  

How Did They Get Here?

The Raiders started the season with Curt Casteel at quarterback who lead them to a 9-3 OT home victory over the then number three team in the nation, St. John Bosco out of California.  Casteel scored the eventual game winner on a QB sneak.  Aquinas traveled west to take on nationally ranked Centennial (Arizona) and was shutout for the first time since 1996 12-0.  Casteel was intercepted twice and sacked five times in the game.  In comes new quarterback Derek Wingo who would get the start in the next game against rival Deerfield Beach.  This 2017 Raider team clearly is lead by a stout defense that shutout the Bucks 14-0, but the team had a different look with the 6’2” 200 lb sophomore behind center.  A disappointing regular season ending loss to Miramar 44-27 seemed to humble St. Thomas and re-focused the team for another championship run.  Aquinas has outscored their three playoff opponents by a combined score of 142-13.


St. Thomas travels to Venice, FL in the state semifinals.  Last year the Raiders defeated Venice 46-8 at home.  Venice (12-1) will be looking for revenge at home but will they have enough to dethrone the mighty Raiders?  Aquinas wins this game with defense as they continue to make history.  Look for big plays from St. Thomas defenders like Miami commit Al Blades Jr. and Florida State commit Asante Samuel Jr.

St. Thomas 28, Venice 13

Miami Northwestern (12-2) is returning to glory years of its own in the 2017 season.  The Bulls are looking to reach their first state championship game since 2008.  Last year they were eliminated by Miami Carol City and avenged last year’s loss by eliminating the Chiefs 23-15.

How Did They Get Here?

Arguably playing in the toughest district in the country in 16-6A.  “The West” have an impressive resume as anyone defeating Miami Central and Miami Carol City twice this season.  Their defense has been impressive all season but almost allowed both district foes to come back and get victories against them.  Senior Quarterback Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell has stood tall despite his small 5’8” 150 lb frame.  


Look for the Bulls to flex their muscles against Naples at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami.  Naples (10-1) lost this season to Miami Palmetto 37-23 at Naples. Naples has a solid running attack but the team from the West Coast of South Florida should be no match for “The West.”  

Miami Northwestern 42, Naples 14

American Heritage (Plantation) (11-0) survived an epic game against Cardinal Gibbons defeating their rivals 58-57 in triple overtime.  The Patriots are going for back to back 5A state championships and are riding a 25-game winning streak.  

How They Got Here?

The Pats started this season with high hopes and expectations.  They started the season with a win on the road against one of the top teams in Virginia in Bishop Sullivan Catholic 14-7.  They proceeded to march through the season with impressive wins over Chaminade-Madonna (Hollywood) 41-13 and Cardinal Gibbons 23-19.  Their defense has recorded four shutouts this season and is loaded with talent.  Quarterback Cameron Smith has really blossomed into a solid quarterback and seems to get better with each game.  With playmakers like WR/KR Anthony Schwartz and RB/KR Miles Jones, how could you not.


Heritage gets an undefeated Immokalee (12-0) squad at home that will be no pushovers.  Abraham Alce who toted the rock for the Patriots last season now will look to end his former team’s winning streak.  Too many athletes for Immokalee to handle in this one as however as the Pats get the win at home.

American Heritage 49, Immokalee 28

All Games Friday at 7:30 PM

Other Scores from last week:

Cocoa 49, University School (Davie) 14

Chaminade-Madonna 49, Clearwater Central Catholic 3

Oxbridge Academy 41, Florida State High School (Tallahassee) 0

Champagnat Catholic (Hialeah) 38, Cambridge Christian (Tampa) 0

Madison County 28, Pahokee (Belle Glade) 10

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