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American Heritage gets revenge on Northwestern in region semifinals. 'We wanted the West'

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 2 days ago David Wilson, The Miami Herald

As soon as its 2019 season ended with a second-round playoff loss to Northwestern, Plantation American Heritage was thinking about the inevitable 2020 rematch. The narrow loss haunted American Heritage for almost a year and the Patriots spent the winter, spring and summer thinking about the Bulls.

Once the fall arrived and the Florida High School Athletic Association put out its playoff brackets, American Heritage had something even more tangible to grab on to: Nov. 20.

The date — two days shy of a year after the Patriots’ 2019 loss — was when their two spots in the bracket would collide. American Heritage would, in all likelihood, welcome Northwestern back to Plantation for the Region 4-Class 5A semifinals. The road to a Class 5A championship runs through the Bulls and the Patriots, mired in a two-year title drought, has now crossed its biggest hurdle with a 12-3 win at Heritage Field.

“We knew we would have to play the three-time defending state champs again,” American Heritage coach Patrick Surtain said. “We knew the exact date when we were going to play them and we wanted that challenge.”

The Patriots (7-2) held Northwestern (3-2) without a touchdown for the first time since 2017. It was the first time a team other than Bradenton IMG Academy kept the Bulls out of the end zone since 2013.

A year ago, American Heritage fell three points short and Northwestern went on to win a third consecutive state championship. On Friday, the Patriots pieced together an even better defensive performance to reach the Region 4-5A championship, where they’ll go on the road to face Rockledge next Friday.

On four trips into the red zone, the Bulls scored only three points and threw two interceptions. American Heritage finished with four takeaways, including a strip sack by star edge rusher Marvin Jones Jr. in the third quarter to set up a field goal. The Patriots shut out Northwestern for the final 38:05 after Bulls kicker Leo Zuazo made a 40-yard field goal in the final minutes of the first quarter.

“They’ve been doing this the whole year,” Surtain said. “We have some ballers over there and every single last one of those guys stepped up and played their [expletive] off, played their hearts out.”

In the first half, the American Heritage’s offense was even less effective. Star running back Mark Fletcher ran for a first down the first play of the game and then the Patriots didn’t pick up another until a meaningless scramble on the final play of the half.

They had just 45 total yards at halftime. On the first drive of the second half, they more than doubled it.

American Heritage started the third quarter at its own 45-yard line and stuck with its game plan. It fed Fletcher over and over again, and the sophomore started picking up chunks of yardage. He opened the half with a 20-yard run, then a 2-yard run, and then Patriots quarterback Blake Murphy ripped off a 16-yard gain and American Heritage was into the red zone. Murphy eventually sneaked into the end zone on a 1-yard run to give the Patriots a 6-0 lead and the only touchdown of the game.

“They have a hell of a D,” said Fletcher, who ran for 102 yards on 19 carries. “They came pumped up. We had to come and finish.”

Still, American Heritage finished with fewer than 200 yards and Northwestern, ranked No. 15 by MaxPreps, had 210. A missed field goal and two red-zone interceptions left the Bulls with only three points.

After the Patriots’ touchdown drive, Northwestern quarterback Taron Dickens lost a fumble and star free safety James Williams, who is orally committed to the Miami Hurricanes, recovered. A field goal pushed American Heritage’s lead to 9-3 and the Bulls answered with a march down the field.

Running backs Saddiq Jackson and D’Shawn Trowers took turns carrying Northwestern and the Bulls got all the way down to the 13-yard line before linebacker Jaedan Kinlock intercepted Taron Dickens at the goal line. It was the second time American Heritage intercepted the Bulls quarterback in the red zone and it stopped Northwestern’s best chance at staging a comeback.

The Bulls final opportunity came with about eight minutes left in the game. A punt by Miami commit Kahlil Brantley backed up the Patriots at their 1-yard line and Murphy left with a cramp after sneaking for a few yards to start the drive. Star athlete Vinson Davis entered as the emergency quarterback and game plan changed entirely. He and Fletcher ran the read option, and they combined for four runs longer than 10 yards to eventually guide American Heritage into field-goal range to put away the victory.

“Redemption” was the word Surtain used after the Patriots’ win. After a year of waiting, it was finally theirs.

“Going 11-2 is great for some schools, but not us. We hang banners around here, man, and we haven’t been able to do that the last two years and our kids were ready for it,” Surtain said. “We didn’t want any other team. We wanted the West.”

▪ St. Brendan (7-1) 21, Palmer Trinity 0: Richard Dandridge had 102 all purpose yards and one touchdown. Christian Lowry had 6 tackles and a 40-yard interception for a TD. Anthony Gray had 9 tackles and 1 sack. Eric Rangel had 9 tackles. Verdieu Guillaume had 3 tackles and a block field goal returned for a touchdown. Terrell Franklin had 7 tackles.

Girls’ soccer

▪ LaSalle (1-1) 4, Coral Shores 0: Nicole Nielsen 2 goals, 1 assist; Hanah Gonzalez 1 goal, 2 assists; Deanna Prieto 1 goal; Ashley Fonseca shutout (1).

▪ St. Brendan (3-1) 8, Mater Academy 0: Regalado 2 goals; Dow 2 goals; Dennis, Pro, Rincon 1 goal each.

Girls’ basketball

▪ Westminster Academy 70, Cardinal Newman 28: Emma Wallhoff 24 points, 6 rebounds; Claire Erickson 15 points, 5 assists; Lena Girardi 15 points, 6 rebounds; Addy Atkinson 6 points, 8 rebounds; Taelyn Carey 8 points, 10 rebounds.

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