ORLANDO — Cambridge Christian's exhilarating run through the playoffs came to an abrupt and decisive end in Friday's Class 2A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl.
The Lancers, who made the postseason for the first time this season, survived a series of close postseason contests through the state semis with all three games decided by five points or fewer.
This time, there were no breathtaking, last-minute comebacks. Their lack of depth and state title game experience caught up with them in a 61-16 loss to Jacksonville University Christian.
The Fightin' Christians (10-3) won their eighth state title and first since 2011.
"All I can tell (my players) is how much I love them, how proud I am of them," Cambridge coach Bob Dare said. "It's been a great season. We just got steam rolled by a really good team."
The Lancers (12-1) were done in early by an avalanche of turnovers. On the first play from scrimmage, Cambridge quarterback Jaylin Jackson was stripped and University Christian's MJ Marshall recovered. Two plays later, the Christians scored on a 9-yard run by Hussein Howe.
On its next offensive play, Lancers running back Andrew Cunningham fumbled. University Christian pounced on it and Howe scored again, this time on an 8-yard run to make it 14-0.
Jackson threw a pass that was intercepted by the Christians' SuanPaul Nobles on the next series. Howe added another touchdown on a 13-yard run.
With 4:36 left in the first quarter, University Christian already had a 21-0 lead.
Cambridge had found ways to rally before. In the region final, the Lancers came back from an 18-point first-half deficit to beat Admiral Farragut.
Late in the first quarter on Friday, Cambridge got into a rhythm and capped off a drive with a 23-yard field goal by Jacob Enns to cut it to 21-3.
But every time the Lancers scored, the Christians answered. University Christian's Otis Anderson scored on a 4-yard run to make it 28-3.
Cambridge's Andrew Cunningham then scored on a 37-yard run, his longest of the game. Ahead 28-10, the Christians took control again as Howe ran 34 yards for his fourth touchdown. The lead was 35-10 at halftime.
"You just can't turn the ball over in a game like this and expect to come back," Dare said. "At halftime, if we could have gotten that first stop and been able to score, it could have been different. But that didn't happen."
The Christians opened the third quarter by scoring on runs of 19 yards by Clay Boyd and 42 yards by Anderson for a 48-10 lead, enough to start a running clock because of the mercy rule.
Late in the third quarter, Howe added his fifth touchdown on a 22-yard run. Howe is rated a three-star recruit by ESPN with offers from schools such as North Carolina, USF, West Virginia and Wisconsin. On Friday, he rushed for 191 yards to go over 5,000 for his high school career.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
"I knew what (Howe) was like just from watching film," Dare said. "He was everything they said he was and more."
Howe's backfield mate, Anderson, rushed for 107 yards and two scores.
Caleb Young rounded out the scoring for Cambridge on a 64-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
"They just outplayed us," Cunningham said. "We tried to execute. They simply beat us. We'll definitely be back and use this as motivation."
The Lancers made history this season with their first undefeated regular season (12-0), first No. 1 ranking in the state poll and first playoff appearance as a district champion.
Despite the outcome, Cambridge can take solace in knowing it has a future together. Only two starters graduate from this year's team.
I have my head high," said Jackson, one of seven sophomore starters. "I'm good. I'm fine. I'm just learning from this.
"Most people don't get this experience so I'm happy with that."
Contact Bob Putnam at email@example.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.