(Editor’s note: Moore Haven’s regional final playoff game against Champagnat Catholic was scheduled to be played Nov. 22, after the Tribune’s deadline).
FORT LAUDERDALE — After a few splendid seasons, Moore Haven High School football appeared headed toward a mediocre campaign this fall, but thanks to a pair of upsets in the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) playoffs the Terriers turned an average season into yet another memorable one.
Moore Haven, with a 5-5 regular season record, eliminated teams with a combined 19-1 record in the first two weeks of the playoffs.
Moore Haven, whose roster includes former Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School students Rob Harris (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) and Wyatt Hines, barely made the Class 2A playoffs as the sixth and final seed in its region.
In a playoff opener, the Terriers stunned previously undefeated and No. 3 seed First Baptist Academy with a 50-29 win in Naples on Nov. 8.
The win was especially shocking because First Baptist had not allowed more than 18 points in a game all season.
In fact, just two weeks earlier in a regular season game, First Baptist suffocated Moore Haven on the way to an 18-6 win.
Yet, Moore Haven’s offense, led by Leonard Sampson Jr.’s five touchdown passes, hit its stride at the right moment in the postseason.
Moore Haven’s surprising playoff push continued the following Friday night in Fort Lauderdale as the Terriers ousted No. 2 seed Westminster Academy, 32-13.
Once again Moore Haven threw a team off script from its regular season performance.
Westminster averaged 35 points a game in the regular season, but didn’t muster much success against a Terriers defense that constantly forced quarterback Bryan Lodge away from the pocket.
Moore Haven struggled with poor field position and penalties in the first half, but the Terriers found their rhythm on offense in the second half.
Trailing 7-6 at halftime, Moore Haven surged ahead for good on the opening drive of the third quarter on a 1-yard plunge by Nate Crawford, whose path to the end zone was cleared in part by the 6-foot-6, 350-pound Harris on the offensive line.
After Westminster trimmed the deficit to 14-13, Harris and the rest of the offensive line continued to win battles as Moore Haven running backs started cranking out double digit gains, including a 60-yarder by Johnny Crawford III that set up another short TD run by Nate Crawford that gave Moore Haven a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Terriers, whose defense came up with a key extra point block and a late interception, broke the game open on Javon Jones’ long TD catch with 4:39 left.
The victory secured Moore Haven’s second trip to a regional final in the past three seasons.
It’s also the first time since 1997 – and only the second time in school history – that the Terriers have won two playoff games in a season.
In its regular season finale, Moore Haven blanked LaBelle, 17-0, on Nov. 1 in LaBelle. Freshman Wyatt Hines helped with the shutout on defense.
He came in as a substitute at defensive end in the second quarter and made his impact felt immediately with two tackles on his first two plays that led to a 3-and-out.
In the fourth quarter, he pressured LaBelle’s quarterback to fire a poor pass.
Late in the game, Hines switched to offense and took three snaps at quarterback, all of which he handed off on running plays.