VERO BEACH — Palm Harbor University withstood an immediate shock at Vero Beach and led early before giving up 17 unanswered points in a 24-10 loss in a Class 8A region quarterfinal on Friday.
Vero Beach opened the game with a 97-yard kickoff return — off a reverse — by Dravious Wright for a touchdown.
“We gave up that kickoff, which is going to happen,” PHU coach Matt LePain said. “But we gained some momentum right back.”
Logan Ruby capped a 13-play drive on the ensuing series with a 38-yard field goal to cut the Vero Beach lead to 7-3. The Hurricanes converted three third downs during the drive.
PHU then took the lead. Dalton Stokes threw a screen pass to his left. But John Tauber jumped the route, intercepted the pass and returned it 24 yards to put PHU ahead 10-7.
“We had practiced the heck out of that (screen defense), and when it worked out, it was a beautiful thing,” LePain said. “We had practiced that exact play over and over, and on film, no one they had played ever tried to jump it.”
Shane Dixon made a diving interception of Stokes two plays later. But the Hurricanes couldn’t convert. And Vero Beach scored on its next three series. Stokes tossed two touchdowns, and Karson Dietrich made a 26-yard field goal late in the first half to make it 24-10.
“The thing I liked is we made a couple of adjustments at halftime,” LePain said. “But with all the noise, we couldn’t call everything in. We held them scoreless the whole second half, but their defense is pretty dang good.”
PHU’s best opportunity in the second half came after Tauber recovered a fumble at midfield early in the fourth. But the Hurricanes punted and later turned the ball over on downs.