GULFPORT — He didn’t pout, sulk or whimper after losing his starting job, but boy, did Sickles quarterback John Hendrick ever do a lot of huffing and puffing Friday night.
So did a plethora of teammates, all in a proverbial way.
They were breathing life back into the Gryphons’ season.
Benched after last week’s loss to Brandon, Hendrick was re-inserted after halftime Friday and helped rally Sickles to a wild 17-16 win against Boca Ciega (2-3, 1-1) in a Class 4A, District 10 showdown on homecoming night at Charles Beauchamp Memorial Stadium.
With a loss, Sickles (4-2, 1-1) would have been eliminated from playoff contention. Now, it needs only defeat winless Leto on Oct. 22 to secure no worse than a spot in a district tiebreaker .
“I just knew I had to help this team so I’d do whatever they needed me to do,” said Hendrick, who started at free safety, punted and relieved quarterback Lee Myers midway through the third. “It just means so much. I don’t have words to say this. It just feels so great.”
Hendrick’s effort clearly wasn’t the most pivotal of the Gryphons’ improbable rally, just the most poignant. His senior presence — and one fluky completion — appeared to spark Sickles, which trailed 16-3 midway through the third quarter and managed only 75 yards in the first 24 minutes.
“I can’t give him enough credit for what he did in the second half,” Gryphons coach Brian Turner said.
It all began on his fourth play behind center, with Sickles facing a third-and-15 at its own 35. Bottled up in the backfield, Hendrick released the ball just as he was hit, causing it to sail high . Myers, moved to receiver, snagged it on its descent and ran upfield for a 26-yard gain.
Five plays later, senior Hendrick — who finished with a career-high 244 yards on 22 carries — scored from 5 yards to make it 16-10.
On the Pirates’ next possession, quarterback Shaquille Bradford — who managed 81 yards despite being sacked at least a half-dozen times — fumbled after a 21-yard gain deep in Sickles territory. Jordan Robinson recovered, and Cary White found a hole on his left side the next play for a 64-yard touchdown.
White, still not fully recovered from a right ankle injury, gained 192 of his career-best 244 yards in the second half.
“It feels great. I’ve just got to thank the defense,” White said. “They fought their butts off and the O-line opened up the holes. A Mack truck could’ve run through them.”
Stymied all night by sacks and penalties (12 for 91 yards), Bogie now must defeat Largo on Oct. 22 to keep its playoff hopes alive. Bradford easily would’ve eclipsed the 100-yard mark had a long run to within the Gryphons’ 10-yard line not been nullified by a holding penalty on his team’s last possession.
“It’s just a multitude of different things,” Pirates coach Stevie Thomas said. “I can’t sit here and say one particular thing was the reason. We just didn’t get the job done.”