LARGO — Indian Rocks Christian’s storybook 2013 season ended Friday with a 28-14 loss to Hialeah Champagnat in the Class 2A state semifinal.
The Golden Eagles led during the first quarter and trailed by just one at the half. They trailed 20-14 with three minutes to play but could not get the defensive stop or fourth-down conversion they needed to keep their state final hopes afloat.
“I know it hurts, it should hurt, it hurts because you’ve worked so hard for it,” Golden Eagles coach Mark Buchanan said to his team after the game. “And it’s okay for it to hurt.”
The Eagles were a little shaky to start. Sophomore Garrett Ross-Johnson was intercepted by Keddrick Labady on IRC’s first drive. Then the IRC defense held and the offense put together an eight-play, 84-yard drive that took more than four minutes. Ross-Johnson hit Ryan Ferguson on a third-and-6 play, which set up Damian King’s 4-yard touchdown run.
IRC led until Champagnat’s final drive of the first half. Michael Fredrick ran free for a big gain then the Lions brought in 290-pound defensive tackle and Miami commit Travonte Valentine to be the lead blocker at fullback. The result was a 4-yard touchdown run by Dedrick Andrews.
“That’s a big body (Valentine) to slam in there,” Buchanan said. “He is pretty tough to get around.”
IRC had fourth and 1 at the Lions’ 5 on their first drive of the second half, but an illegal shift penalty backed up the Golden Eagles and Clark Sullivan missed the 24-yard field-goal attempt.
To start the fourth quarter, the Lions had two big runs then found Darnell Salomon (four catches, 104 yards) for a 40-yard gain that set up a 12-yard touchdown run by Fredrick. The two-point try was stuffed and it was 14-7.
“(Steven Claude) was the hot guy coming in so it was picking your poison,” Buchanan said in response to why Damian King was not manned-up on Salomon. “We shut (Claude) down (two catches, 20 yards) but he (Salomon) made the plays.”
Salomon’s four catches all went for first downs. Two of were critical third-down conversions. On IRC’s next drive, Calvin Foster intercepted a Ross-Johnson pass. On third and 9 from the IRC 14, Lions quarterback Kato Nelson dodged two defenders on his right, looking right, then found Jason Williams in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown. Nelson would take the conversion in and make it 20-7.
IRC still had some shots left as defensive back Tristan Denisac picked off a Lions pass and returned it 60 yards to the Lions’ 35. Theo Anderson took a screen pass 38 yards for a score. IRC could not get the onside kick and the Lions, behind Valentine and Fredrick, ground them down, capping a 63-yard drive with a Nelson keeper and conversion to make it 28-14.
After IRC’s next possession the Lions took over on downs.
“I promise we’re going to be back next year, IRC is not going away,” Buchanan said. “We know what’s in store for us. We’re losing eight guys, two up front, our whole core is coming back next year.”