Even the most impressive accomplishments have taken on an air of inevitability.
Of course Alonso and Robinson dominated the Class 2A and 1A competition, respectively, in flag football. Of course the two programs were ranked No. 1 in their classification throughout most of the season. Of course they were each the overwhelming favorite to win a state title.
Was anyone surprised?
The Ravens and Knights are flag football juggernauts, programs so clearly superior at their level that few opponents can muster a competitive game much less the threat of victory.
In fact, the handful of teams that can hang reside in Hillsborough County, which has become the sport’s top area, not only in the state but also the nation.
This past weekend, Alonso and Robinson completed their quests for state titles at Mandarin High in Jacksonville.
But they were seeking more than just a pair of championship trophies.
The two were trying to cement their legacy even more as the greatest flag football dynasties in the country.
Alonso, the top-ranked team in the nation, finished the season undefeated (23-0) by beating Seminole Ridge 19-0 in the semifinals and previously unbeaten Fleming Island 33-6 in the title game.
Mieke Rowe was near perfect in the final, completing 22 of 26 passes for 224 yards and five touchdowns. She finished her junior season with 95 touchdown passes.
Eryn Klaus hauled in three of those scores and Carina Annunziata and Makenna Sturgis each had one. Sturgis, a two-sport athlete who also is a standout in softball, ended up 1,300 yards and 34 touchdowns receiving this season.
For the Ravens, it was their third 2A championship, the previous two coming in 2018-19.
This season was by far Alonso’s most impressive. It outscored opponents by a combined 789-98.
Only four of the Ravens’ games were decided by 14 points or less, all against Hillsborough County teams, including one against the Knights.
Robinson added to its record-setting haul by winning its seventh straight state title and eighth overall. The Knights did it with wins over Daytona Beach Mainland (32-7) in the semifinals and Choctawhatchee (32-13) in the final, which was a rematch of last year’s title game.
Haidyn Spano completed 22 of 27 passes for 218 yards and five touchdowns, all to different receivers. The sophomore signal caller finished with 98 touchdown passes.
The victory in the title game extended Robinson’s win streak to 11 games to finish the season 21-2. Both of the Knights’ losses this year came against Hillsborough County teams (Lennard and Alonso).
The county has become synonymous with state titles, so much that it has swept the two classes five times since the format expanded in 2016.
Three of those were by Alonso and Robinson (2018-19 and ‘23).
“We take a lot of pride in the teams from this area, and their quality of play,” Knights coach Josh Saunders said. “There are teams in this area that didn’t make it to states that would have been capable of winning a title this year.”
A lot of that has to do with the foundation set by the Ravens and the Knights.
They are nationally known as flag football powerhouses. Together, the schools have now won a combined 11 state titles.
Their success has raised the profile of the sport, so much that Nike featured both teams in an ad that ran in 2021 during the week of the Super Bowl. The shoe company also has outfitted the two programs, along with many others.
In August, Alonso and Robinson had the national spotlight – again.
The teams squared off against each other in a game at Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. to kick off the opening week of the high school football season.
The matchup was part of the first-ever Nike Kickoff Classic.
To get ready for that trip, the two teams went to Raymond James Stadium nine months ago for a surprise tour of the Buccaneers locker room, where the players were presented with their game day attire, all courtesy of Nike.
The NFL and Nike have invested heavily in flag football.
For the past five years, the Buccaneers have held a preseason flag football tournament,which is hailed as the largest in the country with more than 80 teams and more than 1,600 players competing.
The night before the tournament, the teams head to Raymond James Stadium for dinner and a tour of the locker rooms. Players also were able to meet some of the Buccaneers in attendance.
During the Knights’ playoff run this year, they had to find somewhere to play their region semifinal and final games while turf was being installed at their field.
The Buccaneers provided their indoor practice facility as Robinson’s temporary home.
It is not just wins, or the titles or even the NFL experience that sets Alonso and Robinson apart.
They also have developed a bond.
That has been forged from years of fierce battles for county supremacy. And it continued in Oregon back in August.
“Our teams do a lot of things together, a lot of them became very close on the trip to the Nike Campus in Oregon to play each other,” Saunders said. “Our coaching staffs also are friends and talk frequently. Obviously Alonso coach (Matt) Hernandez and I are great friends so I was certainly rooting for them and their players who I have got to know very well.”
This past Saturday, the Ravens were the first to win a state title. They stayed afterward to cheer on the Knights.
“It’s the way we felt it should be,” Hernandez said of Alonso and Robinson winning titles on the same day. “We started the year in Oregon and then ended the year taking a photo with them on the field in Jacksonville.”