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FORT MEADE — Coaches constantly stress that the small things can make all the difference. For Fort Meade on Friday, one small thing cost it and allowed Tampa Catholic to escape with a 24-23 win in a Class 3A region semifinal.
Down 24-17 with just more than two minutes left, Fort Meade’s Jay Smith threw a 33-yard touchdown. But on the extra point, the holder couldn’t handle the snap. His heave was intercepted, and the Crusaders recovered the onside kick.
Trailing 17-7, the Crusaders scored 17 in a row. And it began on defense.
Lineman Austin Lyons deflected a screen pass then dived to make the interception. Five plays later, Justin Vertino scored from 2 yards to get the Crusaders to within three.
“I tell our guys all the time that you have four to five opportunities in a game to make a game-changing play,” Crusaders coach Bob Henriquez said. “Austin is one of our seniors, and he definitely made a game-changing play.”
After another defensive stop, Tampa Catholic tied it on Michael Sarafianos’ 31-yard field goal.
On their next possession, the Miners went 12 plays before missing a 39-yard field goal.
Two plays later, TJ Harrell took a handoff up the middle and sprinted 65 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
One major reason for Tampa Catholic’s turnaround was its improved run defense. In the first, it allowed more than 200 yards.
“I told our guys at halftime that our poor first-half tackling wasn’t about technique. It was all about attitude,” Henriquez said. “Our guys just came out more determine in the second half to do a better job.”