It wasn’t the perfect performance the Holy Trinity Tigers were seeking, but it was still pretty darn impressive.
And then there was Merrick Campbell.
With the Tigers already up big over visiting Palm Beach Christian Prep, the Holy Trinity freshman defensive lineman stripped the ball from the quarterback and ran 41 yards for a touchdown – his first TD at any level – to punctuate a 50-14 victory Monday night.
“I thought I missed the tackle,” said Campbell, who had some help from sophomore teammate Nate Jennings on the play.
“(The quarterback came back to me), so I had to strip the ball. The ball came up in the air so I just grabbed it.”
The sight of a 6-foot, 290-pound lineman outrunning everyone to the end zone certainly set off a big celebration for the Tigers, who mobbed Campbell in the end zone.
“I was a little shocked, smiling,” Campbell said of his touchdown.
Holy Trinity’s 36-point victory improved the Tigers record to 6-0 on the season and extended the best start to a season in program history.
No Holy Trinity team had ever won more than four straight games to open a season prior to what this group has done.
Senior quarterback Ty Englehart threw four touchdown passes – three to sophomore star Dayday Farmer – and freshman Nicky Teeters scored twice as the Tigers quickly erased an 8-0 deficit to cruise to the easy victory.
While head coach Nate Hooks Jr. was certainly happy with the way his team was able to seize control of this one, he also knows he’ll be going over a few things with his team when they review the film.
“What I’m trying to get across to them is that good teams execute regardless of who the opponent is,” Hooks said. “You do your assignment. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a top five team in the state. The play should work.
“A 50-14 victory … but as a coach, there are still teaching points.”
Holy Trinity (6-0) and Palm Beach Christian Prep (2-4) were originally scheduled to play last Friday night in West Palm Beach, but the game was postponed because of bad weather. It was rescheduled for Monday and moved to Holy Trinity.
The Tigers looked out of synch on their first drive as Englehart and Farmer failed to hook up on a couple of pass attempts. Holy Trinity eventually settled for a long field goal try, which was no good.
Palm Beach Christian, a first-year program that was coming off of back-to-back wins over Titusville and Cocoa Beach, then put together a nice drive that resulted in a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion.
And for just the second time this season, the Tigers found themselves trailing early on, 8-0.
That would be it for the Saints’ offense, however, as the Holy Trinity defense suddenly came alive behind the play of Campbell, Jennings, Jaquez Joiner, Jadon Gowins, Thomas Nargi, Buddha James, Emmanuel Small and Brogan McNab.
Holy Trinity’s defense continually stopped the Saints deep in their own territory, setting up the Tigers offense with relatively short fields to operate from.
“That’s what I like,” Hooks said. “The defense played -- minus that one drive -- a good game. But to go where we’re trying to go, you can’t have those performances. That first drive, it can’t happen. The guy made a heck of a catch in the corner. We were in a coverage where we should have had it.
“So, we’re 6-0 for the first time in the history of the school. The record is perfect, but we still didn’t play perfect. That’s what we’re trying to get to – playing perfect.”
Trailing 8-0, the Tigers answered right away – in bunches – to put the game quickly out of reach.
Englehart connected with freshman Nicky Teeter, who worked his way through the Saints defense for a 26-yard touchdown and, after Jackson Fain’s PAT, it was a one-point game.
Holy Trinity took the lead on its next possession when Englehart and Farmer connected on a 60-yard pass that saw the quarterback drop the ball in perfectly over the defense as Farmer outran everyone to the end zone.
After Teeter scored on a 4-yard run to make it 21-8, Farmer beat the Saints defense deep again and Englehart put it on him for a 45-yard score to close out the first quarter with the Tigers up 28-8.
A 29-yard field goal by Fain made it a 23-point game and then Englehart and Farmer hooked up again, this time from 15 yards out, to make it 37-8 at the half.
Englehart, who transferred to Holy Trinity from Melbourne prior to this season, said he and Farmer are developing a connection that will only improve as the season goes on.
That was certainly evident after the Tigers’ initial drive.
“The chemistry’s there in spurts,” Englehart said. “We just need to keep building the chemistry and figuring out what each other wants to do. We talked (on the sideline after the first drive) and got it figured out and scored three times off of it.”
Up by 29 points at the half, the Tigers were another touchdown away from triggering a running clock early in the third quarter as Holy Trinity went to freshman quarterback Jay Latson.
However, after being unable to convert on third-and-goal from the 7, the Tigers decided to attempt a field goal, which Palm Beach Christian Prep blocked and returned for a touchdown.
The Saints then recovered an onside kick, though they were shut down once again by the Holy Trinity defense.
Freshman Buddha James scored on a 12-yard run to make it 43-14 and then Campbell made his big play to make it a 36-point game to trigger the running clock.
“We had a really good night tonight, but a lot of mistakes that need to be fixed going later into the season and into the playoffs,” Englehart said.
Holy Trinity, which as been to three straight regional semifinals, certainly has a chance to go into the postseason undefeated if the Tigers can stay focused.
Space Coast (1-5) is scheduled to come to town Friday night for Senior Night when the Tigers will honor Gowins; Englehart; Nargi; Jalen Francis; Mick McCarthy; Campbell McNab; Ryan Mel; Larry Edgecomb and Eliyzha Rivera.
After that, Holy Trinity is scheduled to host Halifax Academy (0-6) and Pine Ridge (2-3) before traveling to Daytona Beach to play Father Lopez (3-3) to close out the regular season.
That would be quite a feat for a team largely made up of freshmen and sophomores.
“The first time we came on the field, it just clicked right away,” Englehart said. “Obviously, there are points that need to be improved on and fixed, but it clicked right away. It really blew my mind, because you don’t normally have that.
“The freshmen that we’ve got are really good and they’re going to be really special in the future.”