The Palm Beach Central High School varsity football team traveled to Deerfield Beach High School on Friday, Nov. 23 to face the number one seed in the Class 8A, Region 3 final, falling to the Bucks 21-6.
The loss ended the Broncos’ run toward their goal of winning the team’s first state championship. However, in the wake of their season, the Broncos won the district title, retained the Wellington Cup and etched their efforts in school history with the program’s first-ever regional final appearance.
Palm Beach Central also completed the season 11-2 (4-0 in the district) and posted an undefeated record at home — stats most teams dream of achieving.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our kids,” coach Tino Ierulli said. “These kids have done something that nobody in Palm Beach Central history has done, and for 11 games in a row, they came out on top. They did not give up at all, and this game they played their hearts out, and that’s all we ask as coaches.”
Ierulli admitted that the loss stings and will for a while, but he said that the returning players should remember it and learn from it.
Two turnovers were the difference in the first half for the Broncos. A fumble and an interception gave Deerfield Beach only half the field to navigate to notch two scores. The fumble nullified a would-be first down in midfield for the Broncos. The Bucks eventually capitalized on the turnover to take a first quarter 7-0 lead.
The Bronco defense came up with a big sack that forced a Deerfield Beach punt to start the second quarter, but the Bronco offense had little success when they took to the air. At times, the receivers were open, but the connection was off.
Both teams battled defensively most of the first half. Palm Beach Central moved the ball with a mixed attack, driving into Deerfield Beach real estate, but the drive was stalled when the Bucks intercepted a Bronco pass and returned it to the Palm Beach Central 35-yard line.
The Broncos nearly scored on the ensuing kick return, but the run did set the Palm Beach Central offense up at the Deerfield Beach 36-yard line. The Buck defense denied the Broncos the chance of closing the margin. Deerfield Beach finished the half up 14-0.
The Broncos started the second half on defense and forced a Deerfield Beach punt. Palm Beach Central went back to the run attack and capped a 65-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run by running back C.J. Stewart to make the score 14-6 after the kick was blocked.
The Bucks were able to sustain a drive and respond on their next possession to extend their lead to 21-6 off a 22-yard touchdown pass with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter. While the Bronco defense was able to keep the Bucks out of the end zone for the remainder of the game, it was the offense that sputtered. Penalties would often negate any positive yards during the remaining drives.
“We’ve got to limit the mistakes,” Ierullli said. “Penalties killed us. We had every opportunity to win. I take nothing from them; they beat us. You can’t dig yourself in a hole and then come out of it all the time, especially when you get deep in the playoffs.”
Late in the fourth quarter, the Broncos had another opportunity to cut into the Deerfield Beach lead when they recovered a live ball that bounced off a Deerfield player. The turnover set the Broncos up inside the Buck 22-yard line. Penalties and a big sack by Deerfield Beach pushed the Bronco offense farther away from the goal line. Deerfield Beach would maintain the 21-6 lead until the final whistle.
“My heart just breaks for the boys because I know how much they wanted it and hard they worked for it,” Ierulli said. “I’m very, very proud of them. Not one of them ever laid down and quit.”
Palm Beach Central quarterback Michael Moreland completed 15 of 33 passes for 83 yards, and Stewart totaled 56 yards rushing and a touchdown.