TALLAHASSEE — For roughly four decades, the only “I” in his vocabulary has involved formations. Dominick Ciao, purveyor of power football, would sooner install a run-and-shoot before making any moment or game about himself.
On Saturday, Ciao had no choice. His scheme was too sound, his team too opportunistic, his run game too relentless.
And fate was too compliant.
As a result, the 70-year-old Berkeley Prep coach became the day’s sentimental story line. And a state champion.
“We did it for him,” Buccaneers senior two-way lineman Nikhil Jefferson said.
On a warm Tallahassee morning, the Buccaneers (13-2) exploited a series of Miami Norland miscues and asserted their will in the run game to stun the nationally-ranked Vikings 28-20 in the Class 2M final at Bragg Memorial Stadium on the Florida A&M campus.
The triumph gave Berkeley and its 17th-year coach their first state crown, adding the most elusive jewel to Ciao’s glistening career, which also includes 17 seasons (1986-2002) at Jesuit.
“I feel like (four-time Super Bowl runnerup) Marv Levy,” joked Ciao, who had fallen short in two previous state finals trips (1992 with Jesuit, 2021 with Berkeley).
“Of course, it’s what you play for, and then to look at our players today, what it means for our whole program. All the players that ever played for me, and the players at Berkeley that laid the foundation, that’s who we played for today.”
Their 48-minute effort served as a surreal microcosm for Ciao’s sprawling career. The Buccaneers (13-2) forced three turnovers (turning one into a touchdown), played stifling defense and amassed 274 rushing yards against a top-15 nationally-ranked team (14-1).
“It’s just about will,” Jefferson said. “At the beginning of the game we talked about imposing our will, doing our job and we just came out and executed. I’m so proud of my team, man, I love these boys for life.”
Berkeley’s two most critical carries — by far — occurred on the game’s final decisive possession.
Junior tailback Joseph “Jojo” Troupe (23 carries, 128 yards) somehow found a seam up the middle for a 21-yard gain on third and 18 from deep in his own territory, then churned out 3 yards on fourth and 1 — after Norland had called its last timeout — to seal things.
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“That (third-down) run, that was our season,” Ciao said. “That type of effort.”
When the Buccaneers weren’t controlling the ball, they were re-seizing it.
After Berkeley went three-and-out on the game’s opening series, sophomore Josh Herrmann intercepted a deep Ennio Yapoor pass on the Vikings’ first offensive play. Berkeley didn’t score that series, but Norland also fumbled on its second possession, and the Buccaneers scored nine plays later when junior Dallas Golden turned a short Cooper Hayes pass into a 26-yard touchdown.
Norland committed its third turnover when senior edge rusher Titus Bullard strip-sacked Yapoor. Jefferson recovered, and Golden (24 carries, 155 yards) scored on a 13-yard run the next play to give Berkeley a 14-7 lead with 3:10 to play in the first half.
The second half’s outset served notice that Ciao’s day in the sun was imminent.
Norland took the opening kickoff and moved 71 yards on 11 plays, but failed to score despite a first and goal at the 8. The drive ended with Yapoor being flushed to his right on fourth down from the 5 by Jefferson and Jacob Butler before flinging a throw out of bounds.
“They were in exactly the formation that we anticipated, so we got the right call, the right defense,” said Berkeley third-year defensive coordinator James Harrell, who first joined Ciao’s staff at Jesuit in 1994. “Our guys played with a lot of effort, they got great penetration. Even though he rolled out, we had the right coverage on, and our guys forced him to throw it away.”
The Buccaneers followed with a 12-play, 95-yard drive, capped when Hayes — a freshman who doesn’t turn 15 for another month — scrambled right and found Troupe in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown.
Norland scored in a minute on its next possession, but went four plays and out on its ensuing series. The Buccaneers took a 28-13 lead when Hayes scored on a 1-yard sneak with 5:37 to play.
Shortly thereafter, Ciao was hoisting the trophy that previously had eluded him for generations.
“I came out of retirement really to come over and help with Coach Ciao,” Harrell said. “Our journey began in ’94 when they hired me at Jesuit. So it’s a great culmination to get this first ring for him, and hopefully it’s just the beginning of more to come.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.