Good things tend to happen for teams that can run the football.
That statement rang loudly as the truth Friday as American Heritage got a game-high 142 rushing yards from senior Miles Jones – on the way to rushing for 320 yards as a team – to spark a second-half rally and seal a 28-21 victory over visiting Immokalee in the Class 5A state semifinals.
The Patriots (13-0), who trailed 14-7 at halftime and 21-14 late in the third quarter, clinched their fourth trip to the Class 5A state championship in the past five years – second consecutive – and extended its Broward County-best winning streak to 27 games.
American Heritage will be looking to punctuate its second straight undefeated season with a state championship Friday, December 9th in the Class 5A state championship game, where it will face Baker County (12-1) in Orlando’s Camping World Stadium at 3 p.m.
After a Tyler Jones 5-yard touchdown brought the Patriots even with Immokalee at 21 not even two minutes into the fourth quarter, American Heritage’s defense forced the Indians to punt on the ensuing drive – setting up Miles Jones be the hero as he took an inside handoff and outran the entire Immokalee defense 73 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Jones rushed for 140 of his 142 yards in the second half; senior quarterback Cameron Smith ran for a 63-yard third-quarter touchdown en route to finishing with 73 yards on the ground; senior Jordan Johnson added 59 yards and Tyler Jones 31 yards to go along with his fourth-quarter score.
American Heritage head coach Pat Surtain Sr. said that his team showed “championship grit” with the performance it put on Friday night.
“Did we play our best game tonight – no, but we found a way to win…and that’s what championship teams do,” Surtain said to his team after the game. “I told those guys at halftime ‘the second half isn’t going to be about x’s and o’s, it’s going to be about beating the man in front of you’. And they answered that challenge.”
“Credit to Immokalee, [it] is a good football team. We knew they were a tough bunch that didn’t quit. But our defense played well in the second half – holding them to just seven points – and we trusted our running game because we knew we’d wear them down and Miles Jones made big plays for us like he’s been doing the past two years in the playoffs,” Surtain said.
— J.T. Wilcox (@JTWilcoxSports) December 2, 2017
Heritage’s defense did stiffen in the second half – especially the fourth quarter.
American Heritage fell into its third-quarter hole after a fourth-down encroachment penalty gifted Immokalee (12-1) a first down inside the Pats’ 5-yard line, which the Indians took advantage of on the ensuing play – a 4-yard plunge with just under a minute and a half left in the third.
But the Patriots defense held the previously unbeaten Indians to a season-low 21 points – well below its average per game output of 48.5 points. Prior to Friday, Immokalee’s lowest scoring game was 30-23 regular season win.
Senior defensive end Andrew Chatfield recorded three sacks, senior John Alyn also added a sack while sophomore linebacker Andres Garcia had a sack and second-quarter fumble recovery.
Immokalee offense showed why it was among the state’s most potent groups early against the Patriots. The Indians’ methodical running game found creases and small running lanes against the American Heritage defensive front – which chewed up the clock and led to 20 first downs.
The Indians took a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter after sophomore quarterback R.J. Morales found Shedro Louis in the back of the end zone for a 23-yard strike – which was set up by a Patriots fumble.
Louis had two interceptions to go along with his second quarter touchdown; Morales finished 13-of-18 for 122 passing yards while senior Fred Green totaled a team-high 75 yards on 13 carries and senior Abraham Alce, who transferred to Immokalee after playing for American Heritage in 2016, finished with 73 yards and a touchdown in his return to Plantation.
However, Immokalee’s lack of depth (just 38 players listed on the roster) seemed to catch up with the Indians – especially when late Patriots, who advanced to the state semifinals by surviving a triple-overtime thriller with district rival Cardinal Gibbons, pounded out a four-minute drive to close the game.