HOLLYWOOD — Two familiar postseason foes squared off in the Class 3A state semifinals and for the third straight year, Chaminade-Madonna took out visiting Clearwater Central Catholic, 28-7, to advance to the state title game.
Clearwater Central Catholic (10-4) ran 35 plays to Chaminade’s 17 in the first half, however, the Lions carried a 14-7 lead into the intermission on two long touchdown runs by junior Thaddius Franklin that covered more than 60 yards each time.
While Clearwater Central Catholic was content to ground and pound in the first half with 24 carries for 114 yards, Franklin was more direct with 11 carries for 164 yards in the first half, including scoring runs of 62 and 65 yards.
Franklin, who finished with 24 carries for 210 yards, scored on a 65-yard TD run on the fourth play from scrimmage to give host Chaminade a 7-0 lead with 10:06 remaining in the first quarter.
Clearwater Central Catholic drew even with 7:13 left in the first half, driving 82 yards in 18 plays, capped by a 4-yard scoring run from Johnny Newton.
It marked the first points the Lions have allowed in the postseason, and the first score allowed in 15 quarters. Jordan Niles was a workhouse on the drive with 10 carries for 62 yards. The 5-foot-8, 182-pound senior had 17 carries for 81 yards in the first half.
Niles, who entered the game with 2,006 rushing yards for the season and shattered the single-season school record for touchdowns with 29, finished the night with 145 yards on 32 carries.
“Obviously, it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to,” Niles said. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I am proud of my guys; we fought to the end. I appreciate every one of them. It was a heckuva season for us all.”
Franklin gave the Lions the lead for good on their next possession when he scored on a 62-yard jaunt down the left sideline to put Chaminade up 14-7 with 6:19 left in the half. Franklin broke his collarbone in last year’s win over the Marauders and was unable to play in the state final.
Chaminade extended the lead to 21-7 on its third scoring play of 60 yards or more when quarterback Brady Kelly connected with Elijah Canion with 9:02 left in the third quarter. Derek Geffrard scored the final touchdown of the night for the Lions on a 15-yard run with 4:04 left in the game.
The two-time defending state champion Lions (11-2) advance to their fourth consecutive state championship game where they will Florida State University next Friday at 7 p.m. at Gene Cox Stadium in Tallahassee.
Clearwater Central Catholic, which was playing its fourth straight road game, saw its six-game win streak come to an end.
In winning the state titles, the Lions first had to get past Clearwater Central Catholic — prevailing 16-0 last year and 49-3 the previous season. Chaminade lost in the state finals in 2016 to Trinity Christian Academy in coach Dameon Jones’ first season at the helm.
“That’s a good football team,” said Marauders coach Chris Harvey. “It’s three years in a row where we have had to play them. Offensively, we wanted to come in here and run the ball and we were able to do that. When you give up some big shots like that, it is hard to come back from that.”
Clearwater Central Catholic self-destructed in the fourth quarter with four turnovers. Chaminade’s Quadric Bullard had a fumble recovery and an interception. The Marauders were ranked second in the Class 3A poll by MaxPreps behind Chaminade.
The Marauders nearly scored on a 25-yard pass from Zach Burrill to Johntavious Bonner, but he fumbled on the 1-yard line and the Lions’ Bullard recovered and returned it 20 yards with 10:35 left in the game.
“They were turnovers,” Harvey said. “It was our guys just trying to make more out of a play. It is something we can learn from. We had a heckuva season. Nobody thought we would be here. Chaminade didn’t think we would be here. They thought they would be seeing someone else. We will go back to work and hopefully see them again next year.”