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TAMPA — With red, moistened eyes, Mike DePue’s players carried their retiring 60-year-old coach off Jack Peters Field late Friday night.
Ideally, they would have preferred to drive him off via charter bus, venturing a few exits past surreality, a stoplight or two down from euphoria, and smack into his date with destiny at the Citrus Bowl.
Alas, the date was cruelly broken off.
Time ran out Friday on the Knights, whose season ended in Tallahassee Godby’s red zone. With no timeouts and 13 seconds to go, Zain Gilmore tossed a sideline pass to Austin Eads, who snagged it while practically on his back near the first-down marker at the Cougars’ 11.
Officials didn’t stop the clock to measure, and the final seconds ticked away, preserving a 24-20 Godby win in the Class 5A state semifinals.
The final sequence set off a scene of rage, dismay and despair as Knights players and coaches spilled onto the field clamoring for explanations of why the clock wasn’t stopped.
“That’s part of any football game and the hundreds of football games I’ve been in,” a far more subdued DePue said after watching each of his seniors walk through a tunnel of teammates afterward.
“There have been one or two plays that make a difference in the game. …I thought a lot of things did not go our way that should’ve.
But all you can do is look at the tape and go, 'That’s what happened.’ Tapes don’t lie and we will take a long look at ’em.”
The final scene was set up after Robinson’s defense forced a 14-yard quick kick from Godby quarterback J.T. Bradwell on fourth down near midfield on Godby’s final possession.
“I thought it was going to be another storybook ending,” DePue said.
With 1:40 to work with, Gilmore moved Robinson 42 yards to the Godby 21 in eight plays, highlighted by an 11-yard strike to Jahrvis Davenport on third and 9 with 18 seconds to go.
Two plays later, the Knights’ 12-2 season was winding down in controversy.
“(Eads) caught the ball, unfortunately,” Godby coach Ronnie Cottrell said. “And you know what, how can you tell a guy not to make a catch? It happened in the SEC championship game the other day.”
Trailing 17-7 at halftime, Godby (13-1) scored on its first three drives of the second half.
University of Kentucky commitment Khalid Thomas, held to 44 yards in the first 24 minutes, finished with 138 on 19 carries.
Initially, it was the Knights who asserted themselves on the ground. Godby’s first two kickoffs were squibs that gave Robinson a short field, leading to 10 points.
“We really regret (giving them a short field),” Cottrell said.
Robinson took a 17-7 halftime lead on a 61-yard drive in the second quarter’s final three minutes, capped by Carlos Duclos’ 2-yard touchdown run. A 35-yard Gilmore strike across the middle to Cody Hodgens (three catches, 78 yards) highlighted the possession.
At that juncture, the Knights seemed in control.
About 90 minutes later, they were inconsolable.
“It (stinks) knowing that you’re so close, you’re right there one game away,” two-way senior guard Bruce Hector said. “We had them, just that third quarter, two easy touchdowns.”
Joey Knight can be reached at email@example.com.