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Milestone victories abound in first round of high school football playoffs

Sunday Morning QB: Clearwater Central Catholic, Steinbrenner and Chamberlain are just a few of the standouts in the region quarterfinals.
Clearwater Central Catholic’s Jordan Niles, right, hugs Calvary Christian’s Richie Ilarraza after the Marauders’ playoff win. Niles is a former Calvary player. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
Clearwater Central Catholic’s Jordan Niles, right, hugs Calvary Christian’s Richie Ilarraza after the Marauders’ playoff win. Niles is a former Calvary player. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Nov. 10

Highlights from the first round of the playoffs:

Player of the Week: Jordan Niles, Clearwater Central Catholic

The senior ran wild against Calvary Christian, the school he transferred from after his junior year. Niles gained 236 yards on 16 carries and scored four touchdowns in a 49-28 win. He had a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, then took over the game in the third quarter. Niles had a 27-yard scoring run on the Marauders’ first drive, a 53-yarder on the second and a 17-yarder on the third. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter due to a running clock.

Niles has been good all year. He ended the regular season with 1,414 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns, by far tops on the team. But in the region quarterfinal against the Warriors, he was especially needed. Fellow running back Johnny Newton only carried the ball four times due to an Achilles injury. And Giancarlo Margarejo, who had an 80-yard touchdown run to start the game, only carried once more due to a shoulder injury.

Calvary Christian knew who was getting the ball but couldn’t stop Niles. “In just one year here Jordan has set himself apart,” CCC coach Chris Harvey said. “The way he works, the way he competes, the way he wants to lead. I mean, for a guy to be in our program for just nine months and be a leader is special.”

Related: RELATED: Clearwater Central Catholic refuses to yield ground to Calvary Christian

Team of the Week: Steinbrenner

Steinbrenner coach Andres Perez talks to his team after the Warriors defeated Newsome for the program’s first playoff win. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]

Facing overmatched opponents week after week, Steinbrenner waltzed through the regular season virtually unscathed. The Warriors won their first nine games, most by lopsided margins.

But in last week’s regular-season finale, Steinbrenner squared off against Chamberlain, considered one of the toughest teams on the schedule. The result was a loss, ending the Warriors’ chance for the school’s first undefeated regular season. That outcome raised some doubts about whether Steinbrenner had faced enough quality competition heading into just their second playoff appearance in school history.

The Warriors squashed those concerns in resounding fashion Friday night, routing Newsome 49-20 in the Class 8A region quarterfinals. It was never close. Steinbrenner went ahead 35-0 at the half and played with a running clock the rest of the way.

What the Warriors may have lacked in challenging games, they made up for in experience. There are 30 seniors on the roster, many of whom were given pivotal roles on varsity as underclassmen. Nearly all of them had a hand in recording the school’s first playoff victory. Still, Steibrenner is not satisfied with just one postseason victory.

“We’re 1-0,” Warriors coach Andres Perez said. “This is just the start.”

Related: RELATED: Payoff finally comes in the playoffs for Steinbrenner

Coach of the Week: Jason Lane, Chamberlain

Since taking over in 2015, Lane has turned Chamberlain into a consistent playoff contender. The Chiefs were a combined 16-5 in 2017-18, their first winning seasons in a decade. Still, Lane wanted more, especially after just one postseason trip in his first four seasons.

To make a potential playoff appearance last longer, Lane put together a schedule this year that yielded few easy nights. Trouble was, Chamberlain came up short in those games. Last week, the Chiefs needed a win against undefeated Steinbrenner in the regular-season finale to even make the postseason. Chamberlain got the win — and the No. 8 seed in the Class 5A, Region 3 bracket.

To avoid an early-round exit, the Chiefs had to beat No. 1 seed Rockledge on the road. All those tough matchups during the regular season paid off. Chamberlain knocked off the Raiders 25-13.

It was the first playoff win for Lane and the Chiefs’ first postseason victory since 2008 — the final season under legendary coach Billy Turner.

“This was certainly a special win,” Lane said. “We preached a message, and the kids bought in and executed. It was just a very rewarding experience because the team played well as a whole.”

Wide receivers blocked downhill in the running game. Defensive linemen swarmed to the ball. They played physical. They stayed focused. They even fought off fatigue. Running back Antony Guzman battled through cramps in both hamstrings to gain tough yards throughout the game.

Chamberlain has now won five straight heading into a rematch with Jesuit in the Class 5A region semifinals.

“Building a culture takes time,” Lane said. “We want to be the ones winning the big games, and we’re starting to do that.”

Extra points

• Jesuit has advanced to the region semifinals for the seventh straight season, the longest streak in school history.

Related: RELATED: Jesuit hits the ground running in the postseason

• By beating Calvary Christian, Clearwater Central Catholic became the first Pinellas County program to reach 100 wins in a decade (2010-19). The Marauders’ record during that span: 100-21.

• After going winless in the postseason for 31 years, Bloomingdale has now won first-round playoff games in consecutive seasons. The feat is even more impressive when you consider the Bulls went through a coaching change and graduated several starters from the 2018 team in the offseason.

• Mitchell won a first-round playoff game for the third time in school history. Now, the Mustangs will try to do something they have never been before — win in the region semifinals Friday night when they host Bradenton Manatee.

Related: RELATED: One box checked for Mitchell, now on to the next

Region football semifinals

All games 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Class 2A, Region 3

• No. 3 Seffner Christian at No. 2 Northside Christian

• No. 4 Admiral Farragut at No. 1 Cambridge Christian

Class 3A, Region 3

• No. 5 Clearwater Central Catholic at No. 1 Berkeley Prep

Class 4A, Region 3

• No. 4 Clewiston at No. 1 Lakewood

• No. 3 Tampa Catholic at No. 2 Delray Beach American Heritage

Class 5A, Region 3

• No. 8 Chamberlain at No. 4 Jesuit

Class 5A, Region 2

• No. 4 Nature Coast at No. 1 Orlando Jones

Class 6A, Region 2

• No. 5 Clearwater at No. 1 Gaither

• No. 3 Lake Minneola at No. 2 Largo

Class 7A, Region 3

• No. 3 Manatee at No. 2 Mitchell

Class 7A, Region 2

• No. 5 Bloomingdale at No. 1 Armwood

• No. 6 Tampa Bay Tech at No. 2 Lakeland

Class 8A, Region 2

• No. 4 Steinbrenner at No. 1 Sarasota Riverview

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