MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – There is the saying in football about three yards and a cloud of dust.That is what it sure felt like when it took Middleburg (12-0), ranked No. 16 overall in Florida and No. 7 in Class 1A, only three plays to find seven points on their opening drive that would lead to an all-around dominating 26-6 win on Wednesday night at Alan Powers Field over Jacksonville Andrew Jackson (9-3), who came into the game ranked No. 12 in Class 1A.
It was also the first-ever regional playoff game for both programs who had just won their respective district championships the week before.
That opening drive started off quickly with the Broncos’ when junior quarterback Brooke Swenson dumped off a pass to junior receiver Sam Hardison quickly gaining over 40 yards and setting the Broncos up with first-and-goal inside the Andrew Jackson 20.
From there it was only two more plays before Swenson found senior Meghan Bonser who capitalized on the possession from 11-yards out to give the Broncos the 7-0 lead with just under three minutes chewed off the clock.
With the Tigers on the field, who came in with a roster of just nine available players compared to the 16 available for Middleburg, depth became an immediate concern and something the Broncos exploited all night defensively as they sent the Tigers three-and-out very quickly, something that would become commonplace all night long.The second Middleburg drive saw the Broncos get all the way inside the Jackson 20 again but stalled out due to some mismanaged plays and the Tigers trying to step it up defensively with the limited roster.
However, whatever the Tigers were able to find success in on stopping the Broncos vanished quickly as they were forced into a three-and-out quickly where they scored with just three minutes off the clock in the second quarter when junior Laura Palagyi hauled in another of Swenson’s three touchdown passes of the night to get the Broncos up 13-0.
While the Tigers continued to struggle amongst both side of the ball for most of the night, the Broncos again found the endzone late in the second quarter when a flea-flicker pass from Swenson to junior Jewel Taylor found Hardison again for her second touchdown of the night as Hardison leaped up to get the ball and come down with it when time and downs were at a premium.
That third touchdown of the night by the Broncos took them to halftime with a 19-0 lead.
The third quarter went by with Middleburg seeing its only punt of the night but seeing the first of two interceptions with Bonser picking off Tigers’ quarterback, junior Adayja Gadsden, making Bonser’s presence on both sides of the ball for the Broncos known.With the fourth quarter rolling around quickly, the Broncos capitalized on the Bonser interception when Swenson found Bonser again for the second time of the night to put the Broncos up 26-0 with just 30 seconds off the clock in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos would see a second interception midway through the fourth quarter by Hardison.
The game would end on an Andrew Jackson touchdown pass that seemingly came after the 2-minute warning was issued in the fourth quarter which would have ended the game with the score being over the 19-point differential for mercy rule per FHSAA rules in Flag Football.
For Middleburg head coach Jay Stilianou, who is also Middleburg’s athletic director, it marked his first playoff victory as a head coach but is no stranger to winning playoff games having served as an assistant coach at Green Cove Springs Clay prior to coming to Middleburg at the start of the school year.
But for Stilianou, who is accompanied by his daughter Alexis Stilianou as one of his two assistant coaches and played flag football at Clay, the effort to getting this moment started with getting the athletes to buy into what he was selling to them.“The group of kids is absolutely awesome. Just to get them to believe in them. It wasn’t necessarily a talent factor. It wasn’t the fact that they couldn’t accomplish those things, it was just knowing you could accomplish those things. Just pipping in that belief every single day, talking about that certainty. If we do the little things, and we do our job better than everyone else, we are going to have a chance to win at the end of the game,” Stilianou said about how far his team has come during the season.
And Stilianou did not mince words about the competition his Broncos faced, even after dominating on the field the entire game.
“Hats off to that team [Andrew Jackson]. That team competed to the end and that is what I went over and told those young ladies. You know when you lose, it is a terrible feeling for anybody. Unfortunately, there is only going to be one person smiling at the end of this year, but for them to compete until the final whistle was big time.” Stilianou said.
Middleburg will host Tallahassee FAMU DRS (10-2) on Monday, May 3 at Alan Powers Field with a 7 p.m. EDT start time in the Class 1A-Region 1 Final.