TAMPA — With several blades of grass on his face and sweat pouring down his cheek, Tampa Bay Tech’s Caleb Tucker had the look of a warrior who had just survived a battle with his neighborhood opponents.
Tucker, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound senior left tackle, had just supplied the emotional and physical support his team needed in the final four minutes as the Titans survived a ferocious rally to defeat King 35-28 on Friday night.
It marked the first career victory for new Titans coach Jayson Roberts.
“It’s incredible. … I can’t even put it into words,” said Roberts, 30. “It’s all I dreamed of and thought it would be — and more. It was a whole lot more nerve-racking than I expected and I would have hoped for. But a win is a win.”
TBT (1-1), which lost to King (1-1) last year for the first time since 1987, used a rock ’em, sock ’em approach in the first 26 minutes to build a 28-0 lead.
But the three-hour contest, which featured 769 yards of total offense and 39 first downs, turned quickly into a tight matchup.
King quarterback Greg Windham (304 yards passing) and wide receiver Chris Murray (228 yards receiving) combined to pull the Lions within 35-28 on a 68-yard scoring play with 4:12 left.
After the ensuing kickoff, Tucker spoke up in the huddle with TBT at its 27. “I tried to get my boys pumped up,” he said. “I told them to try and hold it together. We need to pull this out for a win for Coach Rob.”
His offensive line teammates got the message.
TBT ran nine consecutive plays and made three first downs, and quarterback Aaron Midthus (184 yards passing) ran out the final minute with two kneel-downs in King territory. The Titans finished with 430 yards, including 246 on the ground on 51 attempts. Running back Cludner Lacount totaled 183 yards of offense (95 on the ground, 88 on receptions).
“In the second half, (King) made some adjustments, and we had a lot of guys go down in the first half that slowed us down,” Roberts said. “I have to tip my hat off to (King). They could have easily went in the tank after being down 21-0 at halftime. They battled right back like the champions they are. I’m glad our kids were able to persevere and hang on.”