They did it again.
The Academy at the Lakes Wildcats notched its second straight eight-man football title, downing Miami Citi Christian Academy Fire 36-18 in the Florida Christian Association of Private and Parochial Schools (FCAPPS) state championship on Dec. 8, at Southeastern University in Lakeland.
Academy at the Lakes (10-0) never trailed against the Fire (7-3) in a game marked by physicality, aggressive play-calling and bouts of sloppy play.
The Wildcats struck first blood midway through the first quarter when quarterback Jalen Brown, in the face of heavy defensive pressure, completed a 3-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to running back Adrian Leverette.
Near the end of the first half, the sophomore signal-caller drove the Wildcats to the end zone again, with the score square 6-6.
Fielding the ball at their own 38 after a Citi turnover on downs, Brown quickly brought the ball into opposing territory rumbling 22 yards on a bootleg run. He then completed two passes for downs, to set up a 17-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jullian Jennings, with under a minute to go in the half.
For Brown, who entered the game with 26 total touchdowns, those types of plays have been par for the course. Brown was named offensive MVP for the game.
“I thought his play was awesome,” Wildcats head coach Shawn Brown said. “I thought he stayed under control. I thought he stayed composed.
“He had a heck of a season,” the coach said.
The Wildcats cushioned their lead to 22-6 midway through the third quarter on a 3-yard rushing touchdown by senior running back/linebacker Dylan Price — set up by a successful onside kick that gave the Wildcats good field position.
The squad from Miami didn’t give up without a tough fight, however.
The Fire answered with two consecutive scoring drives — the first touchdown set up by a Wildcats failed onside kick; the second, set up by a Brown interception — to narrow the game to 22-18 early in the fourth quarter.
And, they had a chance to take the lead, driving the ball from their own 38-yard line with 4 minutes left in regulation.
At that point, the Wildcat’s championship prospects appeared dicey, with momentum on the opposition’s side.
The team stuck together, however, through the tense moments.
“Nobody got down on each other,” coach Brown said. “We constantly lift people up. We see somebody’s head hanging, I saw players go and talk to them, ‘Hey, you’re all right, you gotta get going.’ I thought they stayed positive. I thought they stayed with it. They were picking kids up that were down, so it was amazing.”
Staying upbeat may have worked for the Wildcats — as the game’s course shifted almost instantly.
A bad snap over the head of Fire quarterback Rolondo Bayex forced an errant throw, which wound up the hands of Wildcats defensive end Tioma Stepanets, who returned the interception 10 yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 30-18 lead with 3:24 left in regulation.
With under a minute left, Wildcats defensive back Caleb Yann added another pick-6 for 85 yards to safely put the game out of reach at 36-18.
Wildcats players and coaches agree: The final score wasn’t indicative of just how challenging the game was, matched up against a team stacked with athleticism and size.
Coach Brown described the game as “crazy, crazy physical.”
Jalen Brown called the game a “dogfight.” “We knew they were going to come in and hit us. We just had to stay cool,” he said.
Senior running back/linebacker Dylan Price put it this way: “They were a tough team. They hit hard. They had that speed to back up the hard hitting.”
The victory was an encore to last year’s memorable state title run when the team went 11-1 and defeated Jacksonville Old Plank Christian Academy 30-9 — for the school’s first-ever eight-man state football championship.
That 2017 season also prepared the team for what to expect this time around.
“I think our experience from last year is the reason why we pulled away in this game,” Jalen Brown said. “(Citi) came out with everything right away, and we were calm, cool and collected, and we just executed.”
With two consecutive state titles, an undefeated season and 20-game winning streak in tow, the team already has their sights set on a third straight championship.
“It’s happening,” Jalen Brown said.
Meanwhile, for seniors like Price, a team captain, his high school career couldn’t have ended any better.
“Every high school player has that image of wanting to end their season on top, with a state championship, get a ring. I’ve been able to do that twice, so it’s just amazing. To celebrate it with these guys, it’s great,” he said.
Road to a perfect season
Sept. 14: Citi Christian Academy (24-12 win)
Sept. 21: at Solid Rock Community (53-6 win)
Sept. 28: at Canterbury (34-13 win)
Oct. 19: Faith Christian (46-13 win)
Oct. 26: St. Lucie Christian (13-0 win by forfeit)
Nov. 2: at Lakeside Christian (15-6 win)
Nov. 9: at Bell Creek Academy (52-0 win)
Nov. 16: Harvest Community (22-6 win)
Nov. 30: Duval Charter (27-16 win)
Dec. 8: Citi Christian Academy (36-18 win)
(6:29) — Academy at the Lakes (AATL) quarterback Jalen Brown completes a 3-yard touchdown pass to running back Adrian Leverett; extra point no good (6-0, AATL leads)
(0:19) — Citi Christian Academy (CCA) athlete Walter Grimes rushes 3 yards for a touchdown; extra point no good (6-6, tie game)
(0:54) — Brown completes a 17-yard touchdown pass to receiver Julian Jennings; 2-point conversion good (14-6, AATL leads)
(7:01) — AATL running back Dylan Prices rushes 3 yards for a touchdown; extra point (22-6, AATL leads)
(5:09) — CCA running back Derrick Posas rushes 3 yards for a touchdown; 2-point conversion attempt no good (22-12, AATL leads)
(7:59) — CCA offensive lineman Wilbert Fabian recovers an offensive fumble for a touchdown at the 1-yard line; two-point conversion no good (22-18, AATL leads)
(3:24) — AATL defensive end Tioma Stepanets returns an interception 10 yards for a touchdown; extra point good (30-18, AATL leads)
(0:58) – AATL defensive back Caleb Yann returns an interception 85 yards for a touchdown; extra point no good (36-18, AATL leads)
Final: 36-18, AATL wins
Academy at the Lakes Wildcats 2018 roster (By jersey number)
1—Jullian Jennings, senior
2—Jalen Brown, sophomore (team captain)
3—Tioma Stepanets, senior (team captain)
4—Peyton Williams, sophomore
5—Jamaal Johnson, senior
6—Brandon Lemke, senior
7—Adrian Leverette, sophomore
8—Amad Zarak, senior
9—Caleb Yann, sophomore
10—Sebastian Sosa, junior
11—Cole Lallanilla, junior
12—Denzyl Downing, junior
13—Tayshawn Pendleton, sophomore
15—James Elverson, freshman
17—AJ Panepinto, freshman
18—Elijah Freedman, junior (Team captain)
22—Dylan Price, senior (Team captain)
23—Carson Passero, senior
47—Quinn McCormick, eighth grade
48—Andrew Kilfoyl, sophomore
52—Matthew Martin, junior
54—Adam Zarak, sophomore
55—Jordan Witt, junior
81—Terrell Woods, freshman
87—Will Callaghan, senior
97—Jay Qian, junior
99—Dwight Downing, sophomore
Shawn Brown, head coach
Kevin Barrett, assistant coach
Landon Smith, assistant coach
Kirk Downing, assistant coach/stats
Jesus Soler, assistant coach
Ben Donatelli, assistant coach
Troy Williams, assistant coach
Makenzie Brinker, athletic trainer
Managers: Ian Curry, Carter Kienast
Published December 12, 2018
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