LAKELAND — It was a battle of opposites Friday as the Zephyrhills Christian Warriors were making their first FHSAA playoff appearance against a Victory Christian Storm squad that had reached the playoffs 11 of the past 12 years.
While the Warriors didn’t play like the moment was too big, their mistakes proved to be the difference.
In a game that came down to the final play, Victory’s Ja’quan Randolph returned an interception 95 yards as time expired to halt a Warriors comeback and give the No. 1-seeded Storm a 12-0 win over the fourth-seeded Warriors in this Class 2A region semifinal game at Victory Field.
It was the Warriors’ third turnover of the game as they finished their season 7-3.
"I think for our first year in the FHSAA, I think its dang good to make it to Round 1 of the playoffs," Warriors coach Mike Smith said. "That game could have gone either way. It’s a hard loss, but I’m proud of the kids. They don’t quit on us. They fight to the end."
Despite the turnovers and the eight penalties, including one in the first half that took away an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown by Javion Hanner, the Warriors still had one final shot to get the victory.
Trailing 6-0 with 1:06 left and needing to drive 80 yards, the Warriors drove to the Storm 23-yard line with 16 seconds left after completions to Calvin Samuel (12 yards) and Kavbion Marbra (28) and a 27-yard run by Jacoby Braxton. Instead of spiking the ball, ZCA snapped it. But Randolph stepped in front of the intended receiver and weaved his way down the sideline as the Storm (10-1) advanced to take on No. 3 Seven Rivers Christian.
It was the second time the teams played this year and the second time the Storm won on a late interception, after a 20-14 victory. This game was just as tight as both teams struggled to get any offense going.
The only score Friday in the first half came on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Jeremiah Byrd to Bradley Clark in the second quarter.
Hanner led the Warriors with 59 yards rushing on 10 attempts. He also had the interception and a 16-yard completion. Semaj James led the Storm with 71 yards rushing.