Prep football: First Baptist hits the road to face unbeaten Dade Christian in 2A semifinal

David Albers/Staff
- First Baptist Academy head football coach Billy Sparacio talks to his team about staying disciplined as they practice Tuesday in preparation for the State Final 4 for Class 2A.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff - First Baptist Academy head football coach Billy Sparacio talks to his team about staying disciplined as they practice Tuesday in preparation for the State Final 4 for Class 2A.

Who will win, First Baptist or Dade Christian?

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Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.

Key players: FBA — QB Jonah Bueltel, RB Chris Dorrill, OL/DL Josh Mastrangelo, FB/LB Alex Diaz, S Kyle Radcliffe. DC — QB/DB Gary Sampson, DL/OL Jayvon Batten, RB Mariel Steadman, WR/DB Terrence Alls

What to watch for: Both teams are undefeated and coming off impressive playoff victories. The Lions will be on the road for the first time since the playoffs started, as First Baptist cruised to a pair of home regional victories. Each squad is looking for its first state title, with the Lions reaching the Final Four in just their fourth year of existence.

With just four teams still alive in the Class 2A state playoffs, there are no weak teams left.

First Baptist Academy coach Billy Sparacio knows that all too well. He realizes his undefeated Lions squad will need its best effort of the season tonight when First Baptist makes the drive across Alligator Alley to take on fellow unbeaten squad Dade Christian for a berth in the state championship game next week at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Each squad is coming off an impressive playoff win last week. The Lions got 200-yard rushing games from running back Chris Dorrill and quarterback Jonah Bueltel in a 56-28 romp over Tampa-Carrollwood Day.

The Crusaders held down the state's all-time leading rusher Kelvin Taylor (son of former Jacksonville Jaguars and Florida Gators standout Fred) for most of the contest in a 20-14 win over Glades Day. Dade Christian quarterback Gary Sampson accounted for nearly 300 yards of total offense in the win, rushing for 112 yards on 13 carries and completing 9 of 17 passes for 164 yards.

"Dade Christian is very athletic. They stop the run, they stop the pass," Sparacio said. "They beat a really good Glades Day team. They've got a ton of team speed and they can run it or pass it on you. They're a complete team, no doubt."

For First Baptist to win, Sparacio knows his team will have to be fundamentally sound.

"We've really been stressing the fundamentals, like we always do," he said. "But it's very important against a talented team like this. We can't get sloppy with the football. We need to be disciplined in all areas and can't afford stupid penalties. We've got to be disciplined in our schemes and stick to our game plan."

The Crusaders boast plenty of big-play capability, from Sampson to running backs Mariel Steadman and Kenny Lewis to receiver Terrence Alls. They also have a big and athletic offensive line.

"They've got good size up front and good athletes off the edge who get off their blocks extremely well," Sparacio said. "Defensively, they don't give up very many big plays. They make you earn every yard. They run very well to the football."

For the first time since the playoffs started, the Lions will be on the road. But Sparacio expects a nice contingent from First Baptist to make the trip.

"We're blessed in so many ways," he said. "We've got tremendous fan support from the parents of our kids, our school administrators and members of our church. We've got a fan bus making the trip and everyone is very excited about this game. It's going to be different (being on the road) but nothing our kids haven't handled before."

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