FORT LAUDERDALE — The Moore Haven Terriers rode a big second-half performance in the regional semifinal to a 32-13 win over the Westminster Academy Lions on Nov. 15.
The number two seeded Lions had only one loss this season before playing Moore Haven.
The win advances the Terriers to the regional final for the first time since 2017, and gives them two back-to-back playoff wins this year, which doubles their playoff win record over the last three years.
Moore Haven got off to slow start in its game against the Lions. After giving up a touchdown, the Terriers didn’t get on the board until late in the second half. And even after scoring a touchdown, a failed two-point conversion meant the Lions would retain the lead headed into halftime.
The Terriers needed a statement drive to open the second half, but a penalty on the offense threatened to kill Moore Haven’s momentum, putting the team in a third and long situation.
Right when they needed to make a play, the Terriers worked some magic.
Moore Haven senior L.J. Sampson hit fellow senior Javon Jones on a 26-yard pass to keep the drive alive.
A few plays later Nate Crawford walked into the end zone untouched. Following the two-point conversion the Terriers had their first lead of the game at 14-7.
A reoccurring theme throughout the game for both teams were penalties. On the ensuing kickoff a penalty on the Terriers gave the Lions the ball around midfield, which they took advantage of by scoring a touchdown a few plays later. However, Moore Haven blocked the extra point attempt to preserve their lead.
The Terriers offense kept things rolling when they got the ball back, specifically with the run game. A huge 50-yard run by sophomore Johnny Crawford helped set up another touchdown run by Nate Crawford to put Moore Haven up 20-13 in the fourth quarter.
The Lions responded with a long drive marching towards the Terriers’ end zone, at one point overcoming a fourth and-5 with a pass brought down along the sideline.
With less than seven minutes left in the game, the Lions quarterback dropped back and attempted to hit his wide receiver in the end zone to tie the game. But Moore Haven senior Issac Harper jumped in front of the pass and pick the ball off, killing the Westminster Academy drive.
After running the ball straight through the Lion defense on their previous drive, Westminster players might have been expecting some more running plays from the Terriers. But instead L.J. Sampson dropped back and found Javon Jones again deep down field for a 79-yard touchdown to put the dagger in Westminster Academy’s season.
Following the big pass play by Moore Haven, the Lion offense fell apart.
Penalties were an issue all game, but they intensified for the Lions in the fourth quarter. Following blindside block, false start, intentional grounding and delay of game penalties, the Lions were facing a mind-boggling fourth down and 60 on their own 10-yard line.
They did not convert the fourth down and 60.
Before the game ended, the Terriers added another touchdown from Nate Crawford, this one from 26 yards out, to go up 32-13.
Awaiting the Terriers in the regional final is a school they know all too well, the top seeded Champagnat Catholic Lions.
Champaganat is one of the top ranked teams in the state and sent Moore Haven home early from the playoffs for the last two years.
In somewhat of a funny coincidence, the game against Champagnat this week also means the Terriers will have faced three teams with the name Lions for three consecutive weeks.
The Terriers are hoping their recent success against Lion teams will continue when they travel to face Champagnat Catholic in the regional final on Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m.