Berkeley Prep packed up the buses and departed the school's campus Thursday for the four-hour trek to Delray Beach for tonight's game Class 3A state football semifinal against American Heritage.
But the Bucs' road to 12-0 and the brink of a state championship game was paved four years ago. The 2008 6-4 season marked the beginning of a journey that has carried Berkeley to unchartered territory.
There are 14 seniors on the Bucs roster — the largest senior class since Dominick Ciao became the head coach in 2007. Four of those seniors have played since their freshmen season — athlete Nelson Agholor, tight end/defensive lineman Reggie Barnes, lineman Tyler Davis and quarterback Destin Nichols — and were a big part of laying the foundation in 2008.
"Those guys have kind of battered their way on the football field since the ninth grade,'' Ciao said. "Now they're seniors and I think it's a part of our success — their leadership. The success of our season is really all about that leadership.''
After missing the playoffs in 2008, Berkeley advanced to the postseason with district runner-up finishes in 2009 and '10. Now they're one win away from the school's first state-title game appearance.
"The seniors' tremendous attitude and effort every day at practice and showing what it takes to be committed, they've done all those things,'' Ciao said. "The young people follow them. It will be a tough group to let go. As I always say, we salute our seniors.''
Big plays the norm for Gaither's Perello
Gaither receiver Carlo Perello's game-winning touchdown against Tampa Bay Tech in the Class 7A-Region 2 semifinals became the talk of the town last week.
It was the kind of catch and run that would make Tampa Bay Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount proud. Perello caught the ball across the middle on a crossing route, shed a Titans tackler, then hurdled a Tech player and finally faked out two Tech defenders on the way to the end zone. The result — a 71-yard touchdown — secured Gaither a spot in tonight's 7A-Region 2 final against Lakeland.
Of course, his Gaither teammates and coaches are used to seeing the senior do something spectacular with a football. Earlier in the game, he caught a 75-yard pass from quarterback Alex McGough.
"The kid just makes plays,'' Gaither coach Jason Stokes said. "He's got golden gloves. We just trust him. If we throw it his way, he's going to do something special with it.''
Perello's touchdown marked consecutive weeks the Cowboys rallied from behind in the fourth quarter. The play summed up Gaither's season of resiliency and the Cowboys never-give-up attitude.
"We've preached all year that we're not asking them to win by 50 points. We just want them to find a way to win,'' Stokes said. "Our kids have found a way to do that and they're just determined not to go home yet.''
Eveld in the zone
There are nights when Jesuit senior quarterback Tommy Eveld's mother has to force him to put down his laptop and go to sleep. If not, he'll stay awake through the early hours of the morning watching game film.
Since taking over as starter earlier this season, Eveld has continuously improved on the field, becoming one of the state's top 20 most-efficient passers.
Eveld has thrown for 2,145 yards with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions this season, and owns a 64.8 completion percentage. He has been the offensive catalyst this postseason for the Tigers, throwing for 462 yards and four touchdowns. For his last three games, he has averaged a quarterback rating of 147. He has also rushed for 38 yards with a touchdown through two region playoffs games.
"Our receivers make plays and it makes me look good," Eveld said.
"He's been accurate," Jesuit coach James Harrell said. "His decision making has been great."
Katherine Smith, Nick Williams