‘Greatest feeling ever’ as Tigers win first playoff game

Nickson hits BlackStrain with 30-yard TD pass on game’s final play


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HolyTrinity's James BlackStrain, shown here making a catch against Coral Springs Charter, caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Dru Nickson as time expired to help the Tigers defeat Cardinal Newman 34-30 in a Class 3A regional quarterfinal last Friday. It was Holy Trinity's first-ever playoff win.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

The clock was down to seven seconds and Holy Trinity senior quarterback Dru Nickson could hear his coaches yelling at him to spike the ball.

At the same time, Nickson also saw that the Cardinal Newman defense had single coverage on wide receiver James BlackStrain.

Decision time.

Nickson decided to run a play, knowing full well “that if that didn’t work, I would get chewed out for … probably the rest of the school year.”

Nickson rolled to his left, got a block from running back Larry Hill, and fired the ball to a wide open BlackStrain, who turned and ran into the end zone to complete the 30-yard touchdown pass as time expired in the Class 3A regional quarterfinal game last Friday.

Holy Trinity 34, Cardinal Newman 30.

The first playoff victory in the history of the Holy Trinity football program.

“It was super exciting,” Nickson said. “We were all filled with emotion after the game. … Just being able to make history and to do it with my teammates, it was the greatest feeling ever.”

Making the playoffs and winning that first game after eight previous playoff losses had been the goal of the Tigers all season long. Now, fifth-seeded Holy Trinity (6-4) will head back to West Palm Beach to play No. 1 seed King’s Academy (9-1) on Friday night at 7:30 in the Class 3A regional semifinals.

Nobody but the Tigers and their fans will expect them to win.

Then again, given their history, nobody probably expected them to beat Cardinal Newman, either.

“We dominated the game, and it never should have come down to that,” Holy Trinity coach Nate Hooks Jr. said. “But the guys kept fighting, obviously, all the way down to the last play.

“After the Merritt Island game (where we lost in the last six minutes), I told them we needed to get six minutes better. And then we lost to Coral Springs Charter with 29 seconds left, and I told them we needed to get 29 seconds better.

“In the playoff game, to get the first playoff victory in the history of the school, we played the entire game – to the last play.”

The Tigers might have had an easier time of it had two touchdowns not been called back because of a penalty.

Nevertheless, it was a good night for Nickson, who threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns – two to Ja’Lon Hudgins – while also running for 40 yards and a score.

Holy Trinity led 14-7 at the half and then made it a two-touchdown lead after Tigers senior Sullivan Altman scored on a 21-yard run.

In fact, it was 28-21 Holy Trinity entering the fourth quarter when host Cardinal Newman (8-3) scored nine unanswered points to take a 30-28 lead.

When the Tigers got the ball back for the final time, they were on their 11-yard line with 37 seconds to play and no timeouts left.

After moving the ball downfield to the 30, and with time running down, Nickson decided to take his shot, something that clearly seemed to catch the Cardinal Newman defense off guard.

The Crusaders offered very little in terms of a pass rush, other than the one player Hill blocked, and for some reason they had three defenders surrounding Holy Trinity’s Preston Milo, who was at the 25-yard line and no threat to score.

BlackStrain, meanwhile, was running past his man.

“Dru told me to run a nine (route), so I ran a nine,” BlackStrain said. “Dru scrambled out, Larry made a great block and he threw it up back shoulder and I had to go get it.”

The Cardinal Newman cornerback guarding BlackStrain slipped as the receiver made the catch and the safety was too late getting over to prevent the Tigers receiver from getting in for the game-winning score.

“They definitely thought we were going to spike it,” Nickson said. “It was a spur of the moment, quick decision. They were definitely caught off guard.”

Holy Trinity first made the FHSAA playoffs in 2001, but up until this point, the Tigers had lost all eight of their previous postseason appearances.

Now that the Tigers have that first win, naturally, they want to be greedy and knock off King’s Academy to get to the regional final.

“We made the playoffs, that was the goal,” Hooks said. “We set a new goal of winning a playoff game. Now, we’ve got to re-set. We’ve got to win another one.

“The goal was to be 1-0. Now, it’s to be 1-0 this week. Just keep being 1-0 and 1-0.”