West senior quarterback Sydney Ford recently scored nine touchdowns in the Class 2A state semis and finals to lift the Wildcats to their first state championship football crown at Mandarin High Jacksonville School.
Ford threw for four touchdowns and ran for another at Western (19-0) avenging last year’s title loss to Newsome with a 34-14 win from behind. Newsome beat Western 19-0 in the title match last year. It was the only blemish in 18 games last year.
Western rallied in the rematch after falling 14-0 in the first quarter of this year’s title game to win the state championship.
“It’s inexplicable,” said Western coach James O’Brien. “It’s a range of emotions from relieved, delighted and satisfied, seeing the joy on the girls’ faces is more than I expected. It’s worth all the hard work.
“It sounds cliché, but if we hadn’t gone through what we went through last year to approach the game with humility, and the will and determination to leave no stone unturned, I don’t think we would have been any better. this year in all areas. We were doing.”
“It was awesome and I was so happy we were able to finish this time,” said Ford, 18, of Davie, whose team is 36-1 over the past two years. “It was the toughest defeat we had all year. We used it a lot this year until the opportunity came and we used it throughout the game.
“I can’t even express what the emotion was like when we started putting the game away,” she said. She plans to play club flag football at the University of Central Florida. “It’s bittersweet. It’s a great way to end the year because it was a big part of my high school life.
“We felt only one got away last year and that feeling is what kept us coming all season to come back here,” O’Brien said. “We were down against them at the start of last year and then we took the lead and just didn’t finish. We were stunned again early on and they had a good game plan. We didn’t were ever going to be counted and the girls were able to settle down.
West sophomore Tamara Elliott threw a touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Nandi Ramessar to cut the deficit to 14-6.
Newsome (20-2) led 14-12 late in the second quarter and was pushing deep into Wildcats territory, but senior Veronica McBride stepped up with a game-changing play with a goal-line interception.
After trailing by two at halftime, Western retired in the third and had a 27-14 advantage going into the fourth.
“We have a really talented team and we showed our athleticism,” O’Brien said. “We played well defensively. The girls showed humility and worked hard all season to win a championship.
Ford put on a strong second-half performance to lift the Wildcats. Ford had three touchdowns and rushed for another score in the contest.
“We started slow, but that’s how you finish the game,” she said. “It’s been our goal all season to win a state title. We have great team chemistry and we’re so close to each other. We were really motivated and it’s an amazing feeling.
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Ramessar scored two touchdowns and McBride and Elliot both added touchdowns.
Western won the state title after claiming a 34-13 win over Fleming Island in the state semifinals. Ford had five touchdowns in the victory.
O’Brien said he was proud of his team for developing the work ethic and sense of commitment necessary to reach the top of their game.
“They bought in, embraced the process and learned to enjoy the journey together that ultimately ended in a state championship,” he said. “I’m proud to have played a small part in building the strength and confidence of these young women as they prepare for the challenges of life ahead of them.
“I believe they’re ready to handle anything that comes their way, and for that I’m very proud,” O’Brien said. “The beauty of the 2022 Western Wildcats flag football team story is that not only did we win our first state championship in program history, but the character that was developed from pain and from the disappointment of that one-point loss a year ago is the most valuable gain.
O’Brien said there were a lot of things that helped the team finish a perfect season, culminating in a state title.
“Hard work, determination, humility, faith, teamwork, trust and responsibility have all been woven into the character of this team and these are things that will prove more valuable than anything,” did he declare. “That’s what the trophy means to us – a representation of who we’ve all become since that loss a year ago.”