ORLANDO – In the first game of the second weekend of the FHSAA football finals, the American Heritage Patriots (14-1) battled the Clay Blue Devils (10-5). Coming into the game, both teams were riding on impressive streaks of their own.
The Blue Devils, who struggled early in the season, found a way to come together at the right time to advance to state. They won their final three playoff games by a combined five points. While on the other sideline, the Patriots had been pretty dominate since the first lost they suffered in their first game of the season.
By the end of the game, the Patriots defeated the Blue Devils 66-8.
American Heritage left nothing to chance from the outset of the game scoring on their first play from scrimmage. Torrance Gibson, junior quarterback, scored on a 78 yard “show-and-go” run.
After a pair of Clay drives that netted them a total of eight yards, Isaiah McKenzie of American Heritage benefitted on back-to-back successful drives. He first scored on a 3-yard run then again on a pass from Gibson that took him 49-yards downfield.
At the exit of the first quarter, the Patriots led 20-0.
In the second quarter, Sony Michel, a Georgia commit, got involved in the offense with some nice runs of 25 yards, 19 yards and 15 yards, respectively. At the half, Michel would have 80 yards rushing and two touchdowns. One of his scores came at the top of the second quarter, while the other came midway through with 5:10 left.
Clay’s offense was nonexistent in the first half. They were out gained by 307 yards (371 to 64). The longest play for the Blue Devils came on a JT Turner 12-yard carry to close the half.
The Patriots tacked on a late score with a pass from Gibson to a wide open Dredrick Snelson waiting in the back of the end zone. Going into the half, American Heritage led 40-0.
“We knew it was still a game to play in the second half. All the coaches reminded us that it was a reason that team was here. So as a leader of the offense I just wanted to do my part. It was nice not having to do much in the second half but manage the game,” said Gibson.
At the open of the second half, once again, the Patriots only needed one play to score. But this time, the offense remained on the sideline as Tavarus McFadden returned the kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown. Then, after Clay’s opening possession resulted in another punt, American Heritage’s special teams reared its head again. McKenzie fielded, then returned, the punt 65-yards for his third overall touchdown of the game with a little over 9 minutes left in the third.
Then, just as they had done all first half, the Patriot defense made plays. They forced and recovered an early third quarter fumble; shortly thereafter, resulting in a Michel touchdown. In the third quarter with 4:55 left, the American Heritage coaching staff called timeout to pull Michel off the field to a round of applause from the Heritage crowd of fans. The young South Florida star finished with 98 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the day.
“We are proud that young man is on our team. In certain cases it’s a major plus but today we didn’t need him to go the whole way so we decided as a staff to let him come out. He deserved it,” said Patriots head coach Mike Rumph about Michel.
With the succession of scoring, American Heritage entered the final quarter with a 59-0 lead.
To cap off the game, the Patriots scored yet again. This time it was back-up running back Travis Jackson scoring. At the close of the game, the Patriot offense finished with 461 yards of which 289 yards came on the ground.
The high point of the game for Clay was a 32 yard running score with 4:38 left in the game from quarterback Wes Weeks. They also would get a two point conversion run in by Turner. By scoring, the Blue Devils not only avoided a shutout, but also the second largest margin of defeat in state final history.
“Nobody expected us to even be here after the start we had. We adopted the mantra “finish strong” and regardless of what that scoreboard says … that’s exactly what we did. This was a learning experience for us. We were young. So next year we will have this in our back pocket to lean on,” stated John Hoekstra, head coach of the Clay Blue Devils.
With the win, not only did American Heritage finished their season on a 14 game winning streak, but also won their first ever state championship in school history.