Pahokee Blue Devils win State Title

Special to The Sun/Courtesy photo.   Pahokee players celebrate on the field at Camping World Stadium, the 2016 FHSAA Class 1A football title Thursday, Dec.8.

PAHOKEE – Whenever Pahokee needed a big offensive play this year they got one. When they needed a big defensive play, they got one. When they desired an unbeaten (14-0) season, they got one. When they wanted a victory in the Muck Bowl for the first since 2008, they got one. When they wanted the seventh school state championship in school history, they got one!!!

Rodney McKay set the tone for the game with two first half touchdown runs, the defense made a goal line stand in the final 30 seconds of the half, and Zatavian Morgan, Tyron Arnett and Adarius Dent made plays in the passing game for quarterback Tyrone Smith to lead the Blue Devils to a 34-21 victory over Baker County Thursday at Camping World Stadium.

Special to The Sun/Courtesy photo Rodney McKay #1 is helped by trainers after suffering a knee injury on a 31 yard run in the fourth quarter.

Coach Orson Walkes said he wanted a full team contribution, offense, defense and special teams in this game and that is what he received.

“I’m elated. Everybody knows this was a dream for me and it came true. I just thank God, thank the beautiful kids I worked with, the coaches and the beautiful community that all came out, I just can’t put this into words.”

Baker was tough and didn’t quit. They started the game with a 12 play drive that covered 48 yards. Tyquan Kinsler wiped out the ball carrier, Junior McLaughlin and recovered a fumble at the Pahokee 34.

The defense made another big play on the Gator second series as Bernard Young recovered a lateral at the Baker 38 yard line. From there Pahokee drove to the end zone with a seven play drive. McKay scored on a seven yard run on a fourth and two to put the Blue Devils ahead.

Baker quarterback Kalee Ciurleo was constantly harassed by the Blue Devils defense. Lemarcus Mckay #33 and Latarie Kinsler #30 provide the pressure on this play.

“We had to go up,” McKay said, “I want to give a shout out to my blocking and the offensive line, they did well all night. I trusted in my line and we had great play calls.”

Baker again tested the Blue Devil defense with a 36 yard drive but was forced to punt at the Blue Devil 44. Pahokee responded with a six play 80 yard drive as Smith got the passing game going with a 24 yard pass on third and 12 to Deon Foreman, a 36 yard pass to Adarius Dent, and a 14 yard pass to Morgan, who carried defenders on his back for about five yards. McKay capped the drive with a 10 yard touchdown run.

Dent said he felt everybody on the team contributed and he and other players were able to make plays.

Special to The Sun/Courtesy photo Pahokee had a great turnout of fans. Attendance was announced at 3,800 for the Class 1A title game on Thursday, Dec. 8.

“I feel amazing and this is the best feeling in the world. I’m going out a champion after my final high school game. It is just a blessing.”

Dent said his brother Christopher and him talked about winning a state title when they were in diapers.

“We told each other when we become Blue Devils we have to win state and we got it today.”

Okeechobee took a 14-0 lead into halftime as the defense came up big with a goal line stand in the final 30 seconds. The Gators had driven from their own 41 to the Pahokee one yard line. Defensive tackle Bryan Crawford and Christopher Dent made key hits to stop the Gator drive as time expired.

Special to The Sun/Courtesy photo Pahokee fans filled Camping World Stadium with a sea of blue in support of their beloved team.

Crawford said the state title gave him a great feeling and he thanked the home town crowd for what he described as ‘mad love.’ “We made some big plays. Big players make big plays in big time games. The energy today was amazing. There was no better way to go out than this.”

Baker made the game close for much of the third quarter as they took the ball 60 yards in 10 plays thanks to a couple of face mask penalties and scored on a bizarre play. Quarterback Kalee Ciurleo was stripped of the ball at the nine yard line but the ball flew through the air into the hands of offensive linemen Gabe Vicari who wrestled with two defenders to reach the end zone to get Baker on the scoreboard, 14-7.

Special to The Sun/Courtesy photo.   (Left to right) Archie Johnson Sr, Pahokee player in the 1998 player state title game, came to support his son, current Pahokee player Archie Johnson Jr. He is joined by Nellie Evans, Naya Johnson, E.J Johnson, and Katrina Johnson.

Pahokee responded with a nine play, 80 yard touchdown drive with big plays like a third down reception by Morgan, a fourth down conversion on a pass to Morgan and Smith’s 45 yard thread the needle touchdown pass to Arnett that put Pahokee back up by 14.

Arnett said he just had to focus on the ball and not worry about the two defenders surrounding him. “I just needed to make a play because we needed it.”

Smith said he trusted that his receiver would be at the spot where he threw the ball.

“I had to trust my receivers and he made an awesome catch,” he added.

Baker again responded with an 88 yard scoring drive to again cut the lead to seven points. Jalen Ciurleo caught two passes for 39 yards on the drive. Kalee Ciurleo out raced the defense for a touchdown on a fourth and goal from the one yard line to make it 21-14 with just over 10 minutes to play.

Special to The Sun/Courtesy photo Pahokee Principal Michael Aronson gets out the state champion t-shirts.

Pahokee iced the game with another 80 yard drive despite an injury by McKay. A key play was a tight end screen on third and nine that Morgan turned into a 26 yard gain. McKay’s final run for 31 yards moved the Blue Devils inside the 25 yard line. He left the game with what was diagnosed as a knee sprain. Backup Jim-travis Gary took over from there after Adarius Dent’s 17 yard catch gave them a first and goal. Gray scored on a one yard run to give Pahokee a 27-14 lead with just over seven minutes left.

Coach Walkes said he felt it was important for Pahokee to answer the Gators when they scored.

“Anytime you allow an opponent to score it gives them hope and motivates them in what they were doing so we wanted to go down and score,” he added.

Roy Walker put an exclamation point on the game when he followed up a dropped interception with another interception that he returned 51 yards for a score and a 34-14 lead with 4:27 to play.

Special to The Sun/Courtesy photo Tyron Arnett #13 warms up before the championship game.

Logan Rickmon scored on a four yard touchdown pass from Ciurleo with just over a minute to play to cap the scoring.

Arnett said he was touched by the turnout of Blue Devil fans. “They really care. They got our backs and we got their backs. They are family basically.”

McKay said Pahokee as a community will feel great about the accomplishment and he was glad that the school had a big cheering section.

Dent said this victory will motivate the community for a while, “It will be alive. Everybody will be awake. Nobody is going to sleep tonight. There isn’t no sleep in the city tonight.”

Game notes
McKay ran for 65 yards on 12 carries as the Blue Devils managed 100 yards on the ground. Smith completed 70 percent of his passes, (14-20) for 232 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Adarius Dent had five catches for 82 yards, Arnett four grabs for 71 yards and Morgan four receptions for 56 yards. Tyqueze Clervan had an interception for Pahokee. Kinsler led the defense with 17 tackles which included 4.5 tackles for loss. Christopher Dent had eight tackles and two sacks. Crawford had nine tackles, with two behind the line of scrimmage, Tyquan Hill had 11 tackles and Roy Walker had 10 tackles.

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