TAMPA — It played out like expected as two 6-3 county juggernauts squared off Friday at Tampa Bay Tech as the Titans hosted Hillsborough. Both teams got big lifts from athletic standouts, as an evenly matched tilt came down to the final second.
Hillsborough junior Blake Rehl got three chances to win the game and he sprinted to the sideline, his arm raised in celebration after his 22-yard untimed field goal sealed a 23-20 Terriers win.
The win was something that brought a lot of pride to Terriers longtime coach Earl Garcia even while it came with a seldom-seen scenario for the coach and his team – a 7-3 season that didn’t get Hillsborough into the playoffs.
“It was a difficult week of practice because in all my years of coaching at Hillsborough, we’ve never known that the 10th game was the last game,” Garcia said. “Even the one year we didn’t make the playoffs the deciding game was the 10th game.”
“I’m real proud of these guys playing so hard in the second half.”
After the Titans erased an eight-point Terriers lead in the fourth, Hillsborough found itself with just under two minutes and 66 yards to go for a score. Junior quarterback Dwayne Lawson connected on two nice pass plays and had 11 yards in rushing on the drive, setting up a field goal try from 37 yards. But TBT mistakes negated two missed chances by Rehl, first with a roughing penalty and second with an encroachment, allowing the junior kicker a third opportunity to drill home the winner.
“I was so nervous, the first time I missed it and I was so happy I had another shot,” Rehl said. “Then the second shot they were offsides; I’m just glad for my seniors I could finally get it done.”
The Terriers got a quick look at TBT’s speed from the start as Titans playmaker Tajee Fullwood hauled in a bouncing opening kickoff and returned the ball 85 yards for a score.
The Terriers came right back as Lawson ran for a 55-yard gain in Hillsborough’s first offensive drive, setting up his eventual 9-yard touchdown pass to John Hughes.
Fullwood again made his presence known in the second quarter when, serving as the Titans’ punter, the senior jumped for a high snap, tucked the ball away on the busted play and scurried for 70 yards, giving TBT the ball deep in Hillsborough territory and leading to a 4-yard Deon Thompson score and giving the home team a 12-7 halftime lead.
Junior Junaid James later grabbed an errant TBT pass and returned it 62 yards for a score.
Hills. 7 0 13 3 — 23
TBT 6 6 0 8 — 20
T – Fullwood 85 kick return (kick failed)
H – Hughes 9 pass from Lawson (Rehl kick)
T – Thompson 4 run (pass failed)
H – Lawson 70 run (pass failed)
H – James 62 interception return (Rehl kick)
T – Cain 1 run (Fullwood pass from Cain)
H – FG Rehl 22