Gibbons aims for revenge
Heritage only team to beat them last year
Nik Scalzo remembers the American Heritage games all too well.
After a 4-6 season in 2015, Cardinal Gibbons bounced back with an impressive nine-win campaign and suffered just two losses last season — both to American Heritage. The latter, a 10-7 defeat in the Class 5A regional semifinals, was especially tough for the Gibbons quarterback considering how close the Chiefs came to upending the eventual 5A state champs.
“I was in class today and watched both of the games,” Scalzo said on Monday. “I’ve watched the playoff game seven or eight times fully — I’ve watched it a lot. It motivates me more seeing the plays I missed, because I know I can come back this year and make those plays.”
Today, Scalzo and the Chiefs have their chance at revenge as they host the Patriots in one of the state’s most heavily anticipated games. Both teams are unbeaten and hold the top two spots in the AP’s Class 5A state rankings, with Heritage at No. 1. The Patriots are currently ranked fourth in the nation by MaxPreps.
After an impressive debut season, Cardinal Gibbons has continued to improve under second-year coach Matt DuBuc. While the Chiefs (5-0, 2-0) are known for the high-powered “Air Raid” offense, the defense has been dominating opponents this season. Through five games, Cardinal Gibbons has pitched three shutouts and allowed just 12 points.
The offense has also become more diverse as the running backs have stepped up in a major way, with Vincent Davis, Jordan Riggins and Tajae Davis all proving capable of shouldering the load in the backfield.
One of the biggest challenges for Cardinal Gibbons will be penetrating the Patriots’ vaunted defense. Led by the nation’s top two cornerback recruits – seniors Patrick Surtain II and Tyson Campbell — American Heritage (4-0, 1-0) has instituted a no-fly zone on opponents throughout the season. Standout defensive linemen Nesta Silvera and Andrew Chatfield have made that job even more difficult by constantly harassing opposing QBs in the backfield.
Cardinal Gibbons isn’t getting caught up in star ratings, though, as they prepare for Friday’s matchup — even with the Patriots’ dominant one-two punch at cornerback.
“I’m just looking at them like every other cornerback and I’m coming in to do my thing,” said Carlos Sandy, the Chiefs’ leading wide receiver.
Last year was a transition year of sorts for Cardinal Gibbons as the team was breaking in many young starters under a new head coach, but now they’re a much more battle-tested squad.
“Last year I came into the game as a sophomore and I was super nervous and had butterflies,” Scalzo said. “My confidence level is up right now. I just don’t want to go 0-3 against Heritage.”
While all eyes in Broward County — and across the state — will be on the showdown in Fort Lauderdale, this likely will be the opening act as the teams will likely face each other once again in the playoffs. Despite the likely rematch down the road, DuBuc said that won’t play a factor in how they game plan for American Heritage.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to win the game,” DuBuc said. “We’re not holding anything back. What’s the point? We’ll worry about that when that one comes up.”
Forest Hill looks to upend Dwyer
Without a doubt, Forest Hill has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. The Falcons, who posted losing streaks of 37 and 43 games within the past two decades, suddenly sit at 5-0 through midseason and are in the hunt for the District 13-7A title.
On Friday, Forest Hill (5-0, 2-0) will host what’s likely the biggest game in school history as the team welcomes perennial power Dwyer. It’s been a down year for the Panthers (3-2, 2-1), who lost the bulk of their starters from last season. While Dwyer isn’t as loaded as in previous years, they’re still a strong unit and come into the contest as favorites.
If Forest Hill can pull off the win, they’ll be just two wins away from a district title — something no one predicted before the season.
Plantation, Western face off
Another major showdown in Broward County will be between Western (6-0, 3-0) and Plantation (5-1, 2-1), who are both vying for the District 12-8A title. After a one-year coaching hiatus, in which Plantation finished 2-7, the Colonels have returned to form under coach Steve Davis.
Western has been equally impressive in its unbeaten start to the season. Quarterback Harrison Story and running back Keshaun Clarke have been one of the county’s most potent onetwo punches.
Ridge aiming for district
Seminole Ridge (6-0, 2-0) looks to continue its breakthrough 2017 campaign as it hosts district rival Palm Beach Central (3-2, 1-0). With a win over the Broncos, the Hawks would virtually wrap up the district race, as only Jupiter — riding a 31-game losing streak — remains on the schedule.
Quarterback Nik Scalzo will lead Cardinal Gibbons against American Heritage.