POMPANO BEACH – In what could be a dress rehearsal for next week’s Region 4-3M playoffs, Blanche Ely took a 26-14 halftime lead and held on late for a 33-28 victory in the 54th annual Soul Bowl game on Friday night.
Dillard (5-5) entered the contest one spot ahead of Blanche Ely (8-2) in the Class 3A state standings, while the Tigers were one spot ahead of Dillard in Region 3-3M. The two teams appear destined for a rematch of last year’s regional quarterfinals, won by Blanche Ely. You’ll find out Sunday morning in the FHSAA support release.
“Looks like it’s going to be Soul Bowl Part 2,” Blanche Ely coach Michael Bailey joked. “I don’t think this will disappoint and I think we will continue to be victorious.”
Tigers quarterback Gary Hadley Jr. scored three touchdowns in the first half to give Blanche Ely the lead early in the half before Dillard made a late run. Hadley finished the night a modest 8-of-12 for 101 yards, but he threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score.
“I think we started off pretty good,” Bailey added. “I think this was our first game having a good first half. I would have liked to see a cleaner second part, but overall I like what we’ve seen. We will make some adjustments and improve for next week.”
Blanche Ely (8-2) took a 7-0 lead with 4:16 left in the first quarter on a 1-yard sneak pass from the Hadley quarterback. The score came after a 39-yard interception by Gaby Almonord to the Panthers’ 1-yard line.
Dillard (5-5) responded when he took the opening kickoff and went 65 yards in 11 plays capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass from Nylan Maine to Anthony Carey with 11:53 left in the first half.
The Tigers made it 14-7 on Shawn Paschall’s 47-yard scoring run just two minutes later. Blanche Ely extended the lead to 20-7 on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Hadley to Richard Hollis. The duo combined again with 1:57 left in the first half when Hollis caught a 17-yard touchdown from Hadley.
Dillard responded with an 80-yard, 7-play drive capped by Maine’s second touchdown pass to Carey, this one covering 4 yards, to cut the halftime lead to 26-14.
Blanche Ely extended the lead to 33-14 on Marcel Williams’ 33-yard touchdown reception from backup QB Omari McNeal with seven seconds left in the third quarter.
Dillard made a late run on a 5-yard touchdown throw from Tyler Chance to Carey, and Carey added a 50-yard touchdown run with 5:17 left to cut the deficit to 33-28. Carey would add 11 carries for 74 yards and six receptions for 65 yards, as he accounted for all of the Panthers’ scoring.
Williams finished his night with 4 receptions for 56 yards and a score. He also had a 12-yard reception on the final drive of the night to give the Tigers a first down and allow them to run out the clock.
“Marcel has been double-teamed all year,” Bailey said. “He is a player. He’s been here from the bottom until our undefeated (regular) season last year. Being a high-level leader, he understands the mission…he can’t deny it. “That kid is great.”
The Tigers’ victory marked the first time since 2015 and 2016 that Blanche Ely bested Dillard in consecutive years in the Soul Bowl. Blanche Ely leads the all-time series 27-26-1.
“I just want our guys to play four good quarters of football and we haven’t done that yet,” Dillard coach Demitris Mincey said. “Regardless of the game, we knew we would see each other next week. “We’ll watch the film and learn some of the things they can do.”