DELRAY BEACH — From grit to sweat, fortitude to honor, Berkeley Prep left everything it had on the brown turf of Scott Maurer Memorial Field on Friday.
Had fortune not been so fleeting, it would have left its heart and soul — Nelson Agholor — out there also.
Problem was, he was too hurt to lift his arms above his pads.
With the three-way Division-I prospect out virtually the entire second half with an injured right shoulder, the Buccaneers (12-1) watched American Heritage rally for 17 unanswered second-half points in a 17-9 triumph in the Class 3A state semifinals.
Junior major-college prospect Greg Bryant, operating out of a single-back zone-read attack, was the difference, gaining 153 of his 203 yards after halftime.
“I’m just proud of our guys. We just battled to the end,” said Berkeley coach Dominick Ciao, seeking his second state finals berth 19 years after leading Jesuit to the 3A finals. “I couldn’t be prouder of our football team. …They played their hearts out tonight; that’s all you could ever ask.”
For 24 minutes, they appeared poised to stun the two-time state champs, even with their 1,900-yard rusher neutralized. Before Agholor (eight carries, 11 yards) got hurt late in the first half, he was hemmed in by a Stallions defense keying on him.
“We had to slow down Agholor; he’s a dynamic player,” Heritage coach Doug Socha said. “He’s probably the second-best player on the field other than Greg Bryant.”
But Berkeley countered with its stifling defensive front and the play-action pass for a 9-0 halftime lead. A pair of long third-down completions by quarterback Destin Nichols set up the Bucs’ first touchdown, a Schyler Miles 1-yard run that capped a nine-play drive after a Stallions fumble.
On Berkeley’s next drive, following a Heritage three and out, Miles was stopped shy of the Stallions goal line on fourth and 1, but Bryant was tackled in his own end zone the next play for a safety.
Bryant had 50 yards on 13 carries at halftime, but the rest of his offense had minus-4.
“We were all so excited (at halftime),” said two-way senior Christian Hardegree, who finished with three receptions for 93 yards. “We were on top of the world.”
They began their descent on the opening drive of the second half, when Justin Vogel’s punt was blocked inside Berkeley’s red zone.
Two plays later, Bryant scored from 7 yards.
Agholor, meantime, stood beside Ciao virtually the entire half. Aside from a third-quarter defensive cameo, he didn’t play in the final two periods.
“He tried to go but he couldn’t go,” Ciao said.
After another Bucs’ three and out, Heritage drove 10 plays, taking a one-point lead on Edwin Giraldo-Cordero’s 40-yard field goal with 4:30 to play in the third.
Then came the clincher: a 14-play, 80-yard drive, topped by Jeremy Gaskins’ 1-yard TD with 2:03 remaining. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Gaskins picked Nichols to seal things.
“We honestly thought we’d go all the way,” Hardegree said. “We knew we had the talent and for our seniors it was now or never. These underclassmen knew it, too. We’ve all been in it for the long run and it didn’t work out for us but we had a great year.”