FORT PIERCE — The Faith Christian Lions took home the SSAC 3A State Championship with an 36-0 win over the Tradition Prep Pirates.
Tradition Prep ended its first varsity season with a 1-7 record and a championship game defeat after winning its first game in program history 36-21 against Boca Raton Christian last week.
“The emotions were out of the roof and I think that might have been one of the issues,” Pirates head coach Shawn McGrath said. “With that emotional high, I think we had a letdown game today. This isn’t quite what we play like, but I’m really happy with the way they showed up and kept fighting through the second half.”
Two rushing touchdowns from Bryant Gerada in the first quarter set the tone for a landslide in favor of Faith Christian.
Gerada kicked things off with a powerful outside run for a 25-yard touchdown to put the Lions up 8-0 three minutes into the game. He punched another one in from the goal line with 2:31 to go in the quarter to extend the lead to 16-0.
Tradition Prep drove down the field and found themselves in plus territory early in the second, but Faith Christian’s pass rush got to Pirates quarterback Mason Brown quickly and forced an incompletion.
Brown was hit late and was injured on the play. He was out for the rest of the first half but returned to start the third quarter.
After another rushing touchdown put the Lions up 22-0 at the half, the Pirates started the second half off with an onside kick but failed to convert. They held strong from midfield and forced a turnover on downs after a 50-yard touchdown from Malik Castro was wiped off the board due to a holding call to take over with good field position.
Brown linked up with Trey Scayle twice to set up Tradition Prep in a first-and-goal situation, but a fourth down sack by Gabe Lovato stopped them in their tracks and swung the momentum back in Faith Christian’s direction.
Perada helped run the clock on a 10-minute drive that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Valentine to Robian Ramos to extend the Lions’ lead to 28-0 with 8:48 to go. Castro finished things off with a pick six to secure the victory for Faith Christian.
“We have been a second-half team all year,” McGrath said. “We played some of our best football in the second half of every game. We went through the hardest schedule we could find the first year and it really paid off in the second half of games. We even saw it come out this game where we played a really good second half. It’s not what we wanted, but we played a really good game.”
Here are three takeaways from Tradition Prep’s championship game loss:
Tough schedule built character for Pirates
Pirates head coach Shawn McGrath did not want to take the easy road in Tradition Prep’s first season as a varsity program. He scheduled top-flight programs like American Heritage and Port St. Lucie to show his students how those programs operated.
After dropping its first six games, that grind of a season paid off for Tradition Prep with a 36-21 victory over Boca Raton Christian to send them to the championship game.
“We wanted them to know what the expectations were,” McGrath said. “We do not want to be a run-of-the-mill program, we want to be the best program out there. Showing them what playoff teams look like is important for what we can become.”
Strength in the trenches is still a work in progress
Faith Christian dominated the game on the ground and a lot of it had to do with its strength in the trenches.
Tradition Prep’s weight room was not finished until the beginning of the season, so they were not afforded the offseason to get stronger as a group. It showed when 5-foot-8, 180-pound Gerada powered through its championship victory.
“To be honest with you, we weren’t worried about our gameplan [against Gerada],” McGrath said. “It was about missed tackles and lack of strength on our part. Our weight room was just developed at the beginning of the year and we’re looking forward to having that next year. Having challenges like this show us that this is a reason that we need the weight room and we need to be in there.”
Tradition Prep return full, young group next season
This young Tradition Prep will get another full season together with no graduating seniors on its roster. They began the season with a young and inexperienced team, but the grind of its playoff team-ladened schedule helped grow leaders out of its young players.
“We have to mature,” McGrath said. “We are still really young and since we didn’t have any seniors, we had a lack of leadership from a senior class. We are going to be there, we are going to be really, really good in the future, we just have to pick up that maturity level.”
Bryan Cooney is a high school sports reporter at TCPalm, part of the USA TODAY Network. You can reach him at [email protected] and also on Twitter at @Bryspann_Cooney.