Blanche Ely first year football coach Nakia Jenkins left the field Friday night following his team’s Class 7A regional quarterfinal loss to Atlantic convinced he had the better team.
The problem was Atlantic is moving on in the postseason following the 21-13 win and the Tigers will have to wait another year to see if it can reach the same heights it did in 2002 when it won the Class 5A state championship and finished the year 14-1.
Jenkins, the school’s sixth coach since 2006, cited the team’s inexperience as a key factor in the loss. The Tigers have only won more than seven games three times since former coach Steve Davis left the school and went to Plantation in 2003.
“I’ve been telling my guys all season that you guys have to make the best of every opportunity and dropped balls killed us again,” Jenkins said. “Dropped balls and blown opportunities … Early in the game we are down in the red zone and we don’t capitalize … just miscues and it shows that we are a young team. We learn from experience and I am proud of them. We will just get ready for next year.”
Atlantic High junior quarterback Edwin Hernandez threw two touchdowns within a 2-minute and 48 second span of the third quarter to give the Eagles (9-2) the victory. Hernandez tossed touchdown passes of 19 yards to Markinson Ripert and 30 yards to Lamar Washington to stake the Eagles to a 14-0 lead.
Blanche Ely (6-5) cut the deficit in half to 14-7 on an 8-yard scamper by Teddrick Moffett with 11:49 left in the game; however, the Eagles wasted little time in answering as Davan Cleckley returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a 21-7 lead.
Blanche Ely closed the gap to 21-13 on a 23-yard scoring pass from Moffett to Laderrick Smith with 2:19 remaining in the game, but the Tigers couldn’t tie the contest after it got the ball back with just 45 seconds left on its own 9-yard line.
Blanche Ely also had a chance to take the lead at 3-0 with 8:15 remaining in the third quarter when Carmeley Charite’s 30-yard field goal attempt was wide right. Demeterice Bellamy finished the game with 11 carries for 54 yards for the Tigers, while Laderrick Smith caught 5 passes for 94 yards.
Atlantic won the contest despite committing 18 penalties for 187 yards that nearly wiped out its 260 yards of offense in the game.
Jenkins’ team featured 80 percent of its roster with players in their first year on varsity. Three of the team’s five losses came in the closing minutes to Deerfield Beach, Miami Northwestern and Plantation.
“We just got to learn how to finish ball games, man,” Jenkins said. “It shows. We had opportunities. We should have beaten this team tonight, hands down. We just didn’t capitalize on the opportunities that we had and that has haunted us all year. We’ll take it. We’ll learn from it and just get ready for next year.”
Jenkins said the most important thing the team should bring away from the season is to play a complete game.
“They need to learn to play four quarters,” Jenkins said. “They need to learn to fight through adversity. They need to learn from mistakes. Dropped balls killed us all year and we probably had seven to eight dropped balls tonight and that could have helped us. We got away with it early in the season, but playing a good, solid team like that which runs the ball well and chews up a lot of clock, that’s what happens.”