Posted: 7:01 pm Saturday, December 10th, 2011
By Matt Porter
ORLANDO – A year after a frustrating, stifling loss in the state championship game, American Heritage returned to the Citrus Bowl on a mission.
The result: One game plan executed to near-perfection, one state championship banner and shiny set of rings on express delivery to Delray Beach.
Behind methodical, powerful blocking from his offensive line, junior Greg Bryant gained 243 yards and three touchdowns on a season-high 38 carries and the Stallions (12-1) won their third state championship in five seasons by beating Madison County 30-3 in the Class 3A state final.
The Stallions avenged last year’s tearful 27-10 defeat at the hands of Jacksonville-Trinity Christian.
“Totally opposite. Tears of joy,” senior offensive lineman Kelly Parfitt said. “We’ve been working year-round for this opportunity.”
Madison County’s speedy defense battered Bryant. But Bryant, who is heavily chased by Florida, Alabama, LSU, Georgia and others, put together relentless runs.
He rushed past linemen. He bounced off linebackers. He shoved aside safeties.
“They were hitting me,” Bryant said. “I felt it. I just kept on running.”
While Bryant shined, Heritage’s line lifted him up.
Senior tackles Parfitt, Arthur Crouse and junior Roderick Johnson, all more than 6-foot-5, pushed around opponents. Guards Milton Michel and Kyle Mahoney held their ground. Senior center Connar Benson-Epstein made the calls. At the tight end spots, Parfitt, senior Ryan Bennett and junior Tyler Provo blocked to perfection.
“That’s the signature of this football team,” American Heritage coach Doug Socha said. “The toughness.”
Johnson, 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, didn’t come off the field. He lined up for every offensive and defensive snap and claimed he was fresh afterward. Meanwhile, he said he noticed the Cowboys lagging “about five minutes into the first quarter.”
“I knew at some point they’d break,” Socha said. “We talked about break them down, get them in two pieces, and break them again.”
The hammer was Bryant. His third short TD of the day put the game away with 1:02 left. That was after Heritage drained the life out of Madison County (12-2) with a 20-play drive that lasted 10:19, nearly all of the fourth quarter.
“Their offensive line is really good, they have good defense and they’re well coached, but he’s special,” Madison County coach Mike Coe said.
The Stallions drove 89 years on 16 plays in the second quarter, setting up a one-yard Bryant dive. In the third quarter, the Cowboys chased Bryant on a five-play, 44-yard drive that saw Bryant stiff-arming his way to a 31-yard gain and later, a five-yard score. In total, the Stallions controlled 30:26 of game clock.
The defense shut down Madison County junior fullback Tommie Young (34 yards, 13 carries) and shifty scatback Deonshay Wells (76 yards, 11 carries). They allowed one long pass play, a 44-yard flea flicker, but little else.
Heritage was jumpy at the outset, though. On the second play of the game, Socha couldn’t get his team lined up properly and was forced to call timeout. “We had to settle down. I had to settle down,” he said.
Soon after, the Cowboys committed a late hit on quarterback Marcus Davis that brought Heritage from third-and-24 at the 8 to first down at the 25.
“I was trying to get off the field and get our defense some rest. It just snowballed,” Coe said. “Just a bad day.”
Madison County got the ball back with 1:02 remaining. On the last play of the game, senior Cameron Posey’s crunching hit on Wells caused him to fumble. Senior linebacker Silmore Dallaway picked up the gift and ran it in from the 44. Senior defensive end Mike Wallace turned five back-handsprings and a backflip after the clock ran out.
“We don’t stop until 0:00,” Dallaway said.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Dallaway (six tackles, two for loss) shot the gap on third down. Posey batted down an end-zone fade on fourth down, setting up the Stallions’ title-clinching drive.
“It’s awesome,” said Posey, who spent most of the year as a punter because of an offseason wrist surgery. ”Best feeling you can have. We’ve worked so hard all year long.”
Seen and heard
American Heritage running back Greg Bryant, on his day: “I can do better. I just have to keep working.”
Bryant, when asked if he was tired: “Yeah, I’m real tired. My leg’s gone.”
Madison County coach Mike Coe, on Bryant: “That joker is special.”
Coe, on the turnout of Madison County fans, who made up significantly more than half of the 2,589 fans at the Citrus Bowl: “I think the whole town was here.”
Coe, on Heritage’s size beating up his team: “We’re small on defense. With our speed and ability we can cause some turnovers, but they’re well coached up front and they’re huge. It just wears on you. You get tired after a while.”
Coe, on Heritage’s ability to control the clock: “I’m trying to get off the field and get our defense some rest, but it just snowballed. Just a bad day.”
American Heritage senior center Connar Benson-Epstein, on Bryant: “You can’t even put his ability into words. He’s unbelievable. We’re going to see him playing on Sundays sometime soon.”
American Heritage defensive end Blake Davis, who missed all of last season due to knee surgery and stood on the sideline while Heritage lost the 2010 state final: “It feels even better after watching last year. I knew I had my team behind me. … I was over there on that sideline in street clothes. Not even a jersey. I had a sideline pass and I kept it. I hung it up in my room as motivation.”
American Heritage linebacker Silmore Dallaway, on running in a 44-yard fumble recovery as time ran out: “We don’t stop until zero-zero-zero on the clock.”
American Heritage coach Doug Socha, on the payoff of a state championship: “Our expectation, our work, our running, our commitment and sacrifice away from our families, these kids, the sacrifice of their social lives, that’s what it’s about. I’m gonna go see my family now.”