All week long, anyone who watched the two teams practice came away in awe by the sheer size and speed of the Florida squad. Apparently no one told California they shouldn't bother to show up as they took control of the game early and were dominant in a 26-15 win.
"We got tired of hearing about how good Florida was all week," Cali defensive end Lawrence Jackson said. "We all watched the Ohio State-Miami game Friday night and after seeing Ohio State win, we knew we would win too. I heard this was the first year all three Florida schools lost their Bowl game so we decided to go ahead and make them 0-4."
California went to their bag of tricks early as they executed a perfect fumble-rooskie on the game first play with Long Beach Poly's Hercules Satele running for 34 yards before fumbling.
Florida quickly returned the favor as Muir defensive back Drew Pearson picked off Charlotte Co. quarterback Justin Midgett on their first possession. Cali quarterback Richard Irvin, who was named game MVP, led a very impressive drive culminating in a six yard touchdown pass to St. John Bosco receiver Joe Cowan.
Florida got the ball back and after some nice runs by N. Florida Christian running back Ernie Sims, Midgett was picked off again, this time by Edison-Fresno cornerback Clifton Smith. On their first play following the turn over, San Ramon Valley quarterback Sam Keller threw a perfect post to Harvard Westlake receiver Brian Shields for a 35 yard score and California never looked back.
Florida made it close on a Brian Dennison five yard touchdown run to make the score 13-7 but that was as close as Florida would get. Mission Viejo kicker Jeff Ferrier drilled a 41 yard field goal in the second quarter to close out the scoring as California led 16-7 at halftime.
Any chance that California would come out lax after the half were quickly squelched when Temple City defensive back Desmond Reed, who had two picks in the game, had a huge hit on the opening kickoff to fire up the entire team.
California's defensive line, which had been strong all week, was dominating and harassed both Midget and Winter Park quarterback Steven Moffitt all day. Long Beach Poly defensive tackle Kevin Brown had two sacks and was in the backfield all game long. Fellow Jackrabbit Junior Lemau'u was a force coming off the edge and added a sack and two other tackles for loss. Linebackers Michael Okwo, Drean Rucker and Naime Adam added three solo tackles a piece.
Offensively, De La Salle running back Maurice Drew and Irvin both had big games. Drew rushed for 42 yards and added another 47 yards receiving. Those numbers don't come close to telling the story though as more than half of Drew's yards came after contact as he was running over and dragging Florida defenders all game long.
“He has to be the back in the country,” Cali safety A.J Tuitele said. “He’s a lot harder to tackle than Sims was for us. I can’t imagine anyone being better than Drew.”
Irvin was 12-17 for 222 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions while Keller, who was very solid as well, was 9-15 for 101 yards and one touchdown. Offensive coordinator Jim Benkert called a great game negating a lot of Florida's speed by running several screens and quick outs to the wide receivers. Venice receiver B.J Vickers led the team with four catches including one for a score and fullback Jody Adewale out of Roosevelt has three catches.
For Florida, Sims was his team's MVP finishing with 94 yards on 17 carries. The All-American was getting five and six yards a pop but the Cali defense did a good job of not allowing him to get out in the open and breaking off any long runs. Moffett finished the game 9-16 for 132 touchdowns and one score while Midgett was 7-17 for 82 yards and a score. Edgewater's Mike Walker was the team's leading receiver with five catches for 75 yards.
Defensively for Florida, Palm Bay safety Reggie Nelson was all over the field and had a game high seven tackles. Seabreeze defensive back Kenny Scott was solid as well finishing with five tackles.
Also worth mentioning was the incredible leg of Cali’s Ferrier. In the game, kickoffs were moved back to the 30-yard line like in the NFL as opposed to the 40-yard line normally in high school. Ferrier still boomed every kickoff near the goal line and added a 47 yard field goal in the fourth quarter that probably would have been good from 60.
“This was a great win for California and helped us get our respect back,” Brown said. “I thought Florida would be better but we really took it to them.”
For Florida, the team seemed almost in shock by the outcome of the game.
“None of us expected this to happen,” Walker said. “I think we were too over confident coming in. We may have taken them lightly and didn’t realize how good they were going to be.”