TAMPA — After Sickles star Ray Ray McCloud III failed to convert a fourth-and-short rush late in the third quarter, Gryphons coach Brian Turner tried to correct his junior running back’s mistake.
He didn’t need to say much.
“He’s a competitor, so I knew after that he was going to put us on his back and take us down,” Turner said. “I knew.”
McCloud’s 1-yard touchdown run with 7:03 left capped Sickles’ nine-play, 85-yard drive and gave his Gryphons a 17-10 win over Plant City in Friday night’s Class 7A region quarterfinal.
Sickles (10-1) advances to play East Bay next week.
Sickles struck first in the defensive battle. Carter Mulroe blew through the Raiders (8-3) to block a punt midway through the second quarter, setting up a 22-yard Daniel Lezotte field goal.
On the next drive, Gryphons quarterback Issac Holder had one of his two pivotal third-down conversions — a 14-yard pass to Jaaron Barrett — and extended his team’s lead to 10-0 with a 10-yard rush.
The Raiders answered with their biggest play of the night, a 75-yard touchdown rush by Hassan Bailey. After McCloud failed on fourth down, Plant City churned out a 66-yard drive, with Christian Hoyle’s 26-yard field goal tying the game at 10.
That’s when Turner put the game in McCloud’s hands.
“I know it’s a grind-it-out game …” McCloud said. “We just kept fighting.”
After Jyquis Thomas and a tough Plant City defense held him to only 64 yards through the first three quarters, McCloud finally took over. He and Holder ran the ball every down and had seven plays of at least 7 yards.
McCloud had 58 of his 136 yards on that drive, and he dove through an opening at the goal line to put his Gryphons ahead 17-10.
But Plant City had seven minutes left on the clock and one more big drive left in its season. Quarterback Landon Galloway had two long passes — a 22-yarder on third down to Quinn St. John and a 54-yard bomb to Tavares Chase — to get the Raiders to the Sickles 7.
“I got a little nervous …” Mulroe said. “But I knew we had it as a team.”
The Gryphons stuffed three consecutive Bailey runs, and Mulroe blew up a bootleg rush on fourth down for a 3-yard loss to put the game away.
Plant City had the ball in Sickles’ territory six times but only came away with 10 points. Division I recruit Josh Black had two sacks for the Gryphons, who have held four of their last five opponents to 10 points or fewer.
“They bend,” Turner said, “but they don’t break.”