LARGO — Soured by the stench of a first half polluted by penalties, picks and fumbles, Hillsborough’s Earl Garcia did what any pollution-conscious coach would.
He decided to go Green.
Garcia and his staff slid junior speedster Jeremiah Green from strong safety to tailback, and watched the momentum of a wild Class 6A first-round playoff game slide with him.
Green’s 78-yard scoring run with 8:56 to play Friday lifted the Terriers (9-2) to a 29-23 victory against Largo (8-3) in a contest that segued from wretched to riveting for the guests.
“I’m very proud of the guys that came back from a horrendous first half offensively,” said Garcia, who watched his team commit three turnovers and rack up 56 penalty yards en route to a 16-7 halftime deficit.
“We gave them all 16 (points). We just challenged them to come back, and they didn’t want to quit playing.”
The Terriers travel to Armwood, which topped them by 22 four weeks ago, for a second-round contest. If they perform like they did in the first half against the Packers, they’re doomed.
If they replicate their second half, they could be dangerous.
On Friday, the teams exchanged interceptions on the game’s first two plays. Then, with Hillsborough nursing a 7-0 lead, senior defensive lineman Devin Porter made the play of the game for Largo when Terriers quarterback Jeremy Agrinzonis couldn’t handle a low shotgun snap.
Porter nailed Agrinzonis, then scooped up the loose ball and returned it roughly 30 yards to the Terriers’ 2, where Derrick Doss scored to tie the score.
Largo took a 9-7 lead on a safety set up by Morgan Sever’s 67-yard punt to the Hillsborough 2. It went three and out after the free kick, but a Terriers fumble on the ensuing punt set up Juwan Brown’s 1-yard touchdown run with 1:52 remaining in the first half.
“Our defense kept us in the game,” said Largo coach Rick Rodriguez, whose team held Hillsborough to 16 first-half rushing yards. “And our punter.”
From there, Largo began some self-infliction of its own. A bad snap on the Packers’ opening possession of the second half resulted in a 10-yard Sever punt, setting up Agrinzonis’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Sherit on fourth and 3 to make it 16-14.
The Terriers gave Largo its cushion back, committing consecutive personal foul penalties on the following drive that set up Brown’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Moore in triple coverage.
But Anthony Brown returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to set up Green’s 5-yard scoring run, cutting Largo’s lead to 23-21. On its next series, Green (12 carries, 119 yards) bounced off a defender near the line of scrimmage and darted down the Terriers side for his decisive touchdown.
“I thought they had me,” said Green, a sprinter and state medalist in the long and triple jumps in the spring, “and the next thing I knew there was open field and I turned on my track speed.”