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Florida Playoffs Tight and Promise to Get Tighter

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Florida Playoffs Tight and Promise to Get Tighter

Boca is happy after winning the quarterfinals.

We're down to four boys HS teams in Florida after this past weekend's quarterfinals and the quarters bore out what coaches have been saying—this is a very competitive league.

"In this league, competition around Florida has steadily increased as teams are getting bigger and bigger and more players—national and international talent—are coming in with experience," said Jacksonville Head Coach Aaron Church. "The quarterfinals were a testament to that; across the state everyone stepped up their game."

In the four games to decide the semifinalists not team ran away with it. Jacksonville beat Wellington by two 21-19; Cardinal Gibbons held off Okapi 31-19; Boca was just a try better than Key Biscayne 19-12. The biggest margin of victory was only 13 points, with top seed Naples (now the SW Florida Hammerheads) taking down Tampa 26-13. You don't see that much often in state quarterfinals, where no team won by more than two tries, and the average margin of victory was less than nine.

Cardinal Gibbons

Gibbons kind of limped out of their win over Okapi. They lost four of their biggest playmakers to injury late in the game, and with a small bench they actually had to play shorthanded. Thankfully, an early 17-0 lead helped them through and they played tenacious defense to hold Okapi to a three tries to two tries advantage in the second half.

Head Coach Eric Aumann got a big game from John McCray in the backline, as he continues to break through defenses and make ground, and saw Aaron Kervin work hard to cover the pitch and win ball at flanker. But it took a team effort, and it will take a team effort in the semis.


It was a team performance from Boca too in a tight game against an experienced and talented Key Biscayne team. Head Coach Garth Duff-Gray has his team playing together nicely and keeping quiet about it but it's worth noting that Boca lost their first game of the season to Key Biscayne, and since then have gone 5-0-1. 

That tie? To Cardinal Gibbons on March 13, 7-7. The team Boca will play in the semis? Gibbons again. 

This promises then to be a tight one. Gibbons is probably the biggest team 1 through 15 and they understand their tactical approach and what they want to do. Boca has experienced rugby players and knows how to take on big, physical teams. This will be a battle, and possibly, like their last meeting, low-scoring.


The Hammerheads are undefeated in league play, having gone 6-0. If you're pessimistic you might point out that they won two of those games bu razor-thin margins. You might also point out that they are without their regular fullback, Cal Jatbo, who tore his ACL at the Tropical 7s, or that captain Ricardo Garcia injured his ankle in the quarterfinals against Tampa and wing Dylon DeAngelo left that same came with a knee issue.

Still, Head Coach Dan Marks has been able to get the Naples team ready to play all season.

"We feel good about our chances," he said.


The team that won the league in 2019 is different this year and has been up and down. Down would be their 54-0 loss to Gibbons on March 27. Up would be going 5-2 overall so far.

"Against Wellington I felt we started out exactly how we needed to and to our potential," said Church, whose team ran out to a 21-7 lead. But he said mental discipline has been an issue with his team and they figured they had it won maybe a little too early. That, along with repeated penalties that left the Wolverines down to 13 at the end of the game, made things much closer.

"With such a young squad keeping them focused for 70 has been difficult," said Church. "We are undersized but have the most speed in the state. Our boys knew all season if we play to our potential we will eventually run into Naples. And although we are defending Champions we know we are the underdogs in this fight according to outside views. David vs Goliath so to speak. We have also been mentally preparing for this all season. My team is confident and on edge, they know what's at stake and they know they will have to play at their best all 70 min and then some."

So who will take this one? 

"I'm confident in our ability and when we put it together," said Church. "It's a matter of us showing exactly what the Wolverines are about."

It's a tossup? Yes, probably.

As Aumann from Gibbons said after shrugging off the importance of beating Jacksonville in March: "All teams in Florida are evenly matched and have a chance to win each week."