TAMPA — With a playoff berth dangling perilously in the balance Friday at Bill Stewart Stadium, veteran Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia watched his resilient bunch rally yet again in the second half to take a late lead.
Then, he watched rangy defensive tackle Earl Moore block a field goal on the final play to preserve it.
This is what the Terriers (6-3, 2-1) will take to Largo for the first round of the Class 4A playoffs: a special team, buoyed by special teams.
Two second-half blocked kicks and a late offensive surge propelled the Terriers past King 27-26 in a wild playoff elimination game.
King (5-5, 1-2), seeking its first postseason berth since 2001, put itself in field-goal range on a bizarre final drive assisted by consecutive Hillsborough penalties. But Moore’s deflection of Zach Travis’ 37-yard attempt as time expired set off Terrier euphoria.
“We work our butts off on special teams,” said Garcia, whose club fumbled twice in the first half to set up two King touchdowns.
“We had the right block called, they executed it perfectly to win the game. ”
Lions junior quarterback Greg Windham (17-for-31, 326 yards, two TDs, one INT) had a career night despite being flushed from the pocket frequently.
His 15-yard strike to Kim Jackson gave King a 26-14 lead with 3:11 to play in the third.
Before that, Windham exploited the 5- to 7-yard cushion Hillsborough’s defensive backs were providing to Reese Sturgis (six catches, 97 yards) and junior Chris Murray (seven catches, 171 yards) .
Terriers junior Jeremy Agrinzonis also was quietly having the night of his life (8-of-13, 194 yards, 4 TDs). His 9-yard strike to Jalen Hill on the fourth quarter’s first play capped a nine-play, 65-yard drive and cut the deficit to 26-21.
Then, following a Jeremiah Green interception , Agrinzonis found Evan Jennings on a hitch pass , then watched Jennings dart 68 yards for the winning TD.
King’s final drive, which began with 1:06 remaining, included Windham’s 18-yard completion to Taylor Smith-Gonzales on third-and-5 near midfield, followed by a 15-yard Terriers penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact.