MIAMI BEACH — Seffner Christian had its chances to knock off a powerhouse and advance to its first state championship game, but missed on some scoring opportunities and fell to Champagnat Catholic, 30-21, Friday night at Flamingo Park.
The Crusaders (10-4), who came into the game on a 10-game win streak, were playing in their first state semifinal. The Lions (9-3), state champions in 2017, will be making their fourth consecutive state final appearance.
“We turned the ball over in the red zone multiple times and couldn’t get off the field on third down tonight,” Seffner Christian coach Travis Puleo said. “That was the bottom line.”
The Lions converted a combined seven third downs on their five scoring drives. They had the edge in overall yardage 397-248.
The Crusaders fell behind 13-0 midway through the first quarter, then stormed back to take a 14-13 lead. They trailed 23-14 at halftime and got within 23-21, but miscues in Lions territory proved costly.
Champagnat scored touchdowns on its first two possessions. On the opening drive, Champagnat moved 61 yards on seven plays, scoring on quarterback Ryle Aguila’s 1-yard sneak. After the Crusaders went three-and-out, the Lions got the ball back at their 43. Champagnat converted two third downs, then Calvin Montgomery scored from the 1 with 5:15 left in the first quarter.
“We had a couple of guys miss a couple of tackles the first couple of possessions,” Puleo said. “Once we got our minds straightened out, we made some plays.”
Then the Crusaders quickly seized momentum. Isaiah Knowles completed passes of 29 and 13 yards to Michael Trigg, then Justin Stubbs ran it in from the 12 to cut the deficit to 13-7 with 2:42 left in the first quarter.
Champagnat muffed the ensuing kickoff, and Seffner Christian recovered the ball at the 33-yard line. Eight plays later, Knowles sneaked in from the 1, and Garrett Gray’s extra point gave the Crusaders a 14-13 lead with 11:03 until halftime.
“Our dudes were making plays,” Puleo said. “Isaiah Knowles was making good reads, Trigg stepped up and made a great play, Stubbs had a few good runs, and the offensive line was starting to block up front.”
The Crusaders forced another punt, got the ball back at the Lions’ 47 and quickly drove to the 19. It was a chance to extend the lead to eight points, but Knowles was intercepted at the 2 by Justin Payoute.
Late in the first half, Champagnat scored on a six-play, 62-yard drive despite committing four penalties during the possession. Aguila’s 22-yard pass to Malik Rutherford on third down set up first and goal at the 10, and Montgomery scored his second touchdown on the next snap, which gave the Lions a 20-14 lead with 1:17 left in the half.
Seffner Christian quickly punted, and Champagnat got the ball back on its 34 with 46 seconds until halftime. Twice, Stubbs almost had interceptions.
On first and 10 from the Lions’ 47, a Crusaders defender got his hand on a pass and deflected it up into the air. Stubbs mistimed his jump, and the ball fell incomplete. Then on third and 6, Stubbs was defending Cur’mari Dopson on a deep pass. It appeared Stubbs got the interception, then Dopson got his hands on the ball, and the official declared simultaneous possession and a Champagnat reception with four seconds remaining. Eathan Moncada kicked a 29-yard field goal on the final play, and Seffner Christian trailed 23-14 at halftime.
The Crusaders opened the second half with the ball and got within 23-21 on an 11-play, 48-yard drive, capped by Trigg, who caught an 11-yard pass at the left pylon with 5:36 left in the third quarter.
Jarred Bryant intercepted an Aguila pass at the Crusaders’ 20 and returned it to midfield. It was an opportunity to regain the lead, but the Crusaders turned over the ball on downs at the Lions’ 33.
Then Champagnat responded with a nine-play, 66-yard drive, capped by Shayon Walton’s 15-yard touchdown pass that expanded the lead to 30-21 with 10:08 left in the fourth quarter.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Crusaders drove from their 23 to the Lions’ 6, but a sack and a delay-of-game penalty scuttled the drive. Then the Lions ran out the clock.
Knowles, a Nay commit, completed 15 of 29 passes for 148 yards, with a passing and rushing touchdown. Stubbs finished with 108 yards and the score on 24 carries, while Trigg’s final tally was 108 yards and a TD on 11 receptions.
Puleo had nothing but praise for Champagnat: “Best-coached team we went up against, most athletic team we went up against, and they played physical, period. They’re a great football team and total respect for them.”
The best season in Seffner Christian history is over, but Puleo is already looking ahead to 2020. “Extremely, extremely proud of these kids. We lose six total seniors, so we are extremely, extremely excited about next year. We’ve got a lot of offensive linemen and a ton of skill players coming back.”