BRADENTON — The game had just been put out of reach, and Ben Sams knew it.
Just one minute and 33 seconds were left for the outgoing senior to wear his familiar No. 44 for the St. Petersburg Green Devils.
A seemingly indestructible running back on the outside, he couldn't contain his emotions. He thought of the notorious summer workouts, the seemingly endless afternoons lifting weights and how football helped shape him into a young man. One Manatee fan felt compelled to seek him out afterward at midfield to congratulate him on a tough effort and to wish him luck in life.
Sams soaked in what he'll likely remember as one of St. Petersburg's better seasons after a 21-7 loss at Manatee in a Class 5A region semifinal.
"We still had a minute and a half left on the clock," Sams said. "It was a long shot, but I was going to go out there and make the most of that last minute and a half of my high school career."
Sams finished with 89 yards rushing on 20 attempts. A 21-yard run, his biggest of the night, led to a touchdown run by Rashad Lewis to pull the Green Devils within 14-7 in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, St. Petersburg (10-2) could not capitalize on one final lengthy drive. It also could not stop Manatee running back Mike Blakely, who finished with 240 yards and three touchdowns for the Hurricanes (11-1).
Blakely's final touchdown, a 52-yard run, iced the game in the final two minutes.
"We saw him on the film," Green Devils coach Joe Fabrizio said. "We did a pretty good job of containing him. Overall, our defense was thinking bend but don't break."
In the first quarter, St. Petersburg seized momentum thanks to an interception by Green Devils cornerback Stevie Murph. That led to a Green Devils' 28-yard field goal attempt by Devon Papandrew, which was blocked.
St. Petersburg's next drive ended with another Papandrew kick. But the 31-yard attempt sailed wide left. And his 42-yard attempt before halftime fell short and wide of its intended target.
"We had every opportunity we just didn't finish off our drives," Fabrizio said. "That was very uncharacteristic of us. We did a good job this season in the red zone."
Despite a 6-yard touchdown run by Blakely for a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, defense kept the Green Devils in the game. Blakely added a 22-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to go up 14-0, a score that ultimately proved to be the winning touchdown.
"Our defense played very well tonight," Fabrizio said. "We had the one breakdown at the end of the game where we were trying to strip the ball. That's how we play. They play hard. They play until the final whistle.
"We had a great year."