Miami Edison quarterback Lonesha Howell knew she was injured.
All she had to do was listen.
“I tried to do a fake, and the whole crowd heard a snap,” Howell said. “Everyone was like ‘ooh.’ The pain rushed to my knee. The coaches picked me up, and I limped off on one leg.”
On Friday — 13 months nearly to the day from when Howell had reconstructive knee surgery — she will lead Edison (11-1) in the Class 1A flag football state semifinals against Tampa Robinson (20-0). Kickoff is at 8:15 p.m. in Jacksonville.
Robinson, the second-ranked team in Florida, has won five state titles in the past six completed seasons, including the past four in a row.
Edison, ranked sixth, is one of two South Florida flag football teams looking for state titles this weekend. In a Class 2A semifinal, top-ranked Western (16-0) is set to play Seminole Ridge (16-0) on Friday at 4:45 p.m., also in Jacksonville.
Here’s a closer look at Friday’s games:
The Wildcats will be looking for revenge against Seminole Ridge, which beat them in the 2018 regional finals.
“They made us look silly,” Western coach James O’Brien said. “It wasn’t really close.”
Western got back to the regional finals in 2019, losing to Park Vista.
This year, Western has reached the state semifinals for the first time in program history, and dominating defense is a big reason why.
Western has 11 shutouts, including seven in a row to start this season. For the year, Western’s defense is allowing an average of just 2.3 points per game.
O’Brien, who has been coaching Western since 2012, said his program has made gradual improvements over the years.
Part of what he has done is to improve Western’s schedule to better prepare his players for the playoffs.
He has also fostered positive working relationships with coaches of other sports at Western, which explains why his roster is comprised in large part of basketball, soccer and lacrosse players.
Western is led by junior Sydney Ford, who has completed 68.7 percent of her passes for 3,430 yards and 56 TDs. She has been intercepted eight times.
This is Ford’s second season as Western’s starting quarterback. Prior to that, her sister Samantha Ford was Western’s QB.
Other Western standouts this year are Veronica McBride (812 receiving yards, 14 TDs), Sydney Hoover (638 receiving yards, 14 TDs) and Jordan Fine (555 receiving yards, 9 TDs).
Lineman Naiya Rampat is the key to Western’s defense.
“She’s lightning quick and relentless,” O’Brien said. “She will rush the quarterback. If she doesn’t get the sack, she’ll chase the ball-carrier.”
Even so, Seminole Ridge represents a major challenge due to its disciplined offense and sound defense.
“They don’t drop passes,” O’Brien said. “If you make a mistake, they will expose you. They have a farm system of girls who have been playing flag their whole lives.”
Coach Vincent Hall, a former wide receiver at Navarro Junior College, started Edison’s flag football program six years ago.
In 2018, Edison made its only state final, losing 16-0 to Robinson.
Revenge could come Friday, but it will be difficult. Edison has just a 14-player roster. Robinson has 28 players.
“No doubt they are favored,” Hall said of Robinson. “At their school, flag football is king. They play a regular season and then a full summer and a fall.
“At Edison, a majority of our girls work part-time jobs to help support their families. Sometimes we practice around their work schedules.”
Even so, Edison has won 11 straight games since a season-opening 26-0 loss to Western.
That was the first game back from injury for Howell.
“I was scared,” Howell said. “I didn’t know whether to trust my leg or not. I was very fragile.”
Since then, Howell has been rolling, leading Edison to a GMAC championship over Krop, a district title over Central and playoff wins over Southridge and Pace.
For the season, she has 2,400 all-purpose yards and 23 TDs. Defensively, she has intercepted 10 passes.
Alexandria Harris is Edison’s other big star. The sophomore wide receiver has 1,600 yards and 22 TDs. Defensively, Harris has 50 sacks and 15 interceptions, including five returned for scores.