ORLANDO – The 50th anniversary is called the “golden anniversary”.
Hialeah Champagnat celebrated its 50th year of existence in 2017, and it now has some gold hardware.
The Lions defense gave up just 233 total yards of offense – only 96 in the second half – as the offense tacked on 10 second-half points to secure a 24-7 win over Jacksonville University Christian Friday morning in the Class 2A state championship game at Orlando Camping World Stadium.
After Daryn “Duke” Jones nailed a 26-yard field goal to give Champagnat (9-2) a 17-7 lead with five minutes left in the game, the Lions put the game completely out of reach on its next offensive possession – a 36-yard strike in the corner of the end zone to sophomore receiver Marc Britt.
With the victory, Champagnat became the first Miami-Dade County private school to win multiple football state championships. The Lions won the Class 2A title in 2013 under former head coach Mike Tunsil.
Since starting its varsity football program in 2010, Champagnat has made the playoffs five times – 2011 through 2013 and 2016 – and impressively, the Lions have played for a state title three times in that span.
For a school with an enrollment of a mere 160 students, Champagnat has appeared in two football state championship games and owns a 2000 boys’ basketball crown.
While the late Britt touchdown completely sealed the game for the Lions, it was Jones’ field goal that gave Champagnat the fourth-quarter momentum and demoralized University Christian.
Lions third-year head coach Dennis Marroquin said he told his kicker to envisioned himself back on the practice field.
“We practice at a park and it doesn’t have any [field goal] posts, it just has two coconut trees,” Marroquin joked. “I told him, ‘just kick it between the coconut trees’ – and that field goal ended up being huge for us.”
“We knew we had to stop University Christian’s quarterback. Our defense was able to string together a bunch of three-and-out’s and our offense – which had some miscues early – made plays when we needed them to and we were able to get some revenge on the team that beat us in the state title game last year.”
The Fighting Christians (10-3) defeated Champagnat 24-8 in 2016’s Class 2A title game, but the Lions’ maturity and benefit of championship game experience showed Friday.
Also, with its fall to Champagnat, University Christian remains in third place all-time for total state football championships won with nine – behind Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (10) and leader Jacksonville Bolles (11).
Statistically, University Christian quarterback Clayton Boyd had a solid game – completing 15 of his 21 passes for 114 yards with a first-quarter touchdown pass to Jalen Dunnigan and rushing for a game-high 94 yards – but he was sacked seven times by Champagnat’s defense.
The Lions, who racked up 11 total tackles for loss Friday, got stand out games from its three top defensive players.
Senior defensive end and University of Miami commit Gregory Rousseau finished with a game-high 9 tackles with 2.5 sacks; FIU commit linebacker Donovan Georges also had 9 tackles with a pair of sacks; while sophomore Jesus Machado added 8 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
The difference for the Lions this time around was also quarterback play.
In 2016’s meeting with the Fighting Christians, Champagnat finished with negative (-42) rushing yards; but senior quarterback Desjuan Kearse did his part to aid the Lions’ running game.
Kearse routinely found creases in the University Christian defensive front and gained chunks of yards to keep Champagnat’s offense moving and force the UC defense to account for both his arms and his legs.
Kearse finished with team-highs in rushing yards (72) and carries (10) while also throwing for 214 yards and the fourth-quarter score to Britt.
Lions senior receiver Jahani Wright finished with a team-high four receptions for 46 yards while Britt had a game-high 87 receiving yards on three catches. Johnquai Lewis also added 81 receiving yards on a pair of receptions for Champagnat.
Champagnat’s offensive production and efficiency Friday was a far cry from 2016’s title game where it turned the ball over five times and gained just 107 total yards.
After the game, Kearse – who was honored pre-game as the team’s top scholar-athlete (player with the highest grade point average) – could only get out a few words to describe the championship feeling.
“Wonderful…great,” Kearse said with a smile.
“This whole year has been about redemption. We got back, it happened to be the same team on the other side, and we did what we had to do. Before the game, coach told us that we would have to run the ball to win the game – the offensive line stepped up and everyone did their job.”