Trenton ends 'unfinished business' with 1st state title

Trenton coach Andrew Thomas is doused with water by Nic Higginbotham following the Tigers' 14-0 win over Blountstown in the Class 1A state championship Friday at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Matt Stamey / Staff photographer
Published: Friday, December 6, 2013 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 6, 2013 at 11:45 p.m.

ORLANDO — All week long, Trenton High School football players heard about Blountstown's vaunted defense, the one with eight shutouts on the season and the one that hadn't given up a score in the first quarter.

On Friday night with the Class 1A state championship on the line, it was Trenton's defense that stole the show.

Stephen Smith tossed a 54-yard touchdown pass to Hamp Cheevers in the first quarter and his brother, Michael Smith, returned an interception 35 yards for a clinching score and the Tiger defense did the rest as No. 4 Trenton blanked No. 1 Blountstown, 14-0, before 3,103 at the Citrus Bowl.

It was Trenton's second state title in less than seven months (won baseball title on May 16) and the area's first football state title since 1997 (Chiefland). It was also the second straight year the Tigers reached the state final, but this year with a happier ending.

“They don't play people that we play,” said a smiling Tigers coach Andrew Thomas, who is 36-3 in three years. “We have been tested this year, our defense has been tested. We knew our physicality coming in, and I wasn't worried about their size because our kids were more physical. And our defense showed it.

“We may not have the biggest kids, but they play hard and they are physical and don't mind hitting. We struggled offensively and had some opportunities that we let go, but we were still able to control the game.”

Neither offenses were dominating and Trenton (12-1) lost three fumbles, but it had enough offensive punch (Cheevers' TD grab) and an overwhelming defense that never let Blountstown, also known as the Tigers, sustain a meaningful drive.

Blountstown's deepest drive ended at the Trenton 38-yard line.

“Defensively, I thought we were a lot better than what we were getting credit for,” said Trenton defensive coordinator Lyle Wilkerson. “We tackled well tonight. I think they (Blountstown) were a little tight. Being here two years in a row, when you have 30 of the 39 coming back, that helped us. We were focused today. We treated it like a regular Friday. I didn't know if we could shut them out, but I knew they would have trouble going 80 (yards) on us.”

Of Blountstown's 13 drives in the game, only four ended in Trenton territory. It totaled 142 yards on 54 plays (2.6 yards per play average), with 79 yards rushing on 43 carries (1.8 average). The Tigers from Northwest Florida came into this game outscoring their opponents 468-61 and 116-6 in the state playoffs.

But in Friday's game, it looked as if it was Trenton's defense that had posted eight shutouts on the season, although offensively it totaled just 199 yards (110 passing, 89 rushing). It was the first time Blountstown (13-1) had been shut out since its 2012 season-opening loss to Holmes County (20-0).

“Our kids were confident and everyone was doubting us,” Thomas said. “The kids were tired of hearing about Blountstown and their defense. I think the teams that played us knew what we had. We are a physical bunch, we have a good defense. It couldn't be better than us pitching a shutout tonight.”

Neither offenses got off to impressive starts, but after consecutive facemask penalties against Blountstown and facing a third and 14, Stephen Smith hit Cheevers on a crossing route down the middle of the field and the sophomore took it into the end zone untouched for a 7-0 Trenton lead with 2:39 to play in the first. It was the first TD allowed by Blountstown in the first quarter all season.

“I didn't see him catch it, I got hit,” said Stephen Smith, who pitched Trenton to a state baseball title in May and will sign a baseball scholarship with Virginia Military Institute. “I knew something good happened by the crowd noise. It gave us a lot of momentum. We got things done when we had to.”

“I knew I had to beat him inside, he was playing inside,” Cheevers said. “I gave him an outside move and stuck with my route. It was a perfect throw, I never lost stride.”

Cheevers had another catch that was nearly a touchdown, but the ball got away from him and Blountstown recovered deep in its territory as Trenton held a 7-0 lead at the half.

But in the third, with Blountstown's offense still struggling, Trenton put the game way when freshman Michael Smith picked off a Dylan Lee pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown and a seemingly insurmountable 14-0 advantage with 6:27 left in the third.

The teams combined for 13 punts, were a combined 5 for 23 on third-down conversions and had 22 penalties for a combined 240 yards.

“I was at the right place at the right time,” Michael Smith said of his interception. “I looked up and he threw it right to me. I was seeing green and I was running to it.

“This is the second state title we won, we won one in baseball. But this is special too. Last year we got here with my other brother, Jonathan, with Stephen and couldn't quite get it done. Last year our goal was get to the state championship, but this year our goal was to win the state championship. Our whole motto this year was unfinished business.”

Contact Larry Savage at 352-374-5050 or larry.savage@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/sunpreps

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