TAMPA — Gaither star running back Jarvis Giles had just enough big runs — one, for those counting at home — to get into the end zone.
Kamren Hawkins was just nimble enough to pick up some crucial first downs.
The Cowboys defense was just frenetic enough to dispel one final gasp by Jesuit, preserving a big 18-14 victory.
It wasn't pretty, for sure. The game was so penalty-filled that after each play, Tigers and Cowboys looked around first — flag? flag? — to make sure they could applaud the result.
(True fact: One referee had to leave the game after reaching his pitch count midway through the third quarter.
Okay, so I made that up.)
But despite the choppiness of it all, Gaither's players smiled on their way out of Death Valley, because their season was alive again.
Heading into the start of their district schedule next week, the Cowboys may finally be right where they thought they'd be weeks ago.
"They are a resilient bunch," said coach Mark Kantor. "Hopefully this will get us going."
Kantor isn't thrilled with the Cowboys' start, nor does he seem all that displeased. Gaither was missing Giles, a Tennessee recruit, for three games.
Mostly, though, the coach points out that his Cowboys have played the likes of Plant, Jefferson and Chamberlain. Throw Jesuit in that mix, and you have teams that are a combined 14-4, with two of those losses to mighty Armwood.
"It's been rough," said Hawkins, whose Cowboys are now 2-3 after a bumpy start.
Friday night, the Cowboys defense was exceptional, harassing Tiger quarterbacks all night and shutting down what has been an impressive running attack.
Hawkins, sometimes lost in the shadow of Giles and his playmaker wide receivers, played perhaps the most crucial role.
Yes, he may be too quick to run at times, and there is no disputing his decision-making on the run remains a work in progress.
But in the second half, he made plays you don't remember until the next day, until you look at film, until you truly digest the reasons the Cowboys pulled through.
After Jesuit steamrolled Gaither for a 76-yard scoring drive to start the second half and go ahead 14-6, and after Giles was stuffed on the next two plays to embed the Cowboys' backsides further into the proverbial wall, it was Hawkins who scrambled 15 yards for a first down when he needed 13.
That gave the Cowboys some breathing room, and Giles sucked the air out of the Jesuit side with a 54-yard touchdown run.
After a Cowboys stop, Hawkins hit J.J. Lattimore for a 46-yard gain, and on second and 9 escaped the grasp of Jesuit's fine defensive end John Plascensia to hustle for 18 more yards.
On that same drive, it was Hawkins again: third and 5, Jesuit took away the quick slant, snuffed out a pass to Giles in the flats and left Hawkins little choice but to run for a first down to set up the winning touchdown.
"It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win," he said. "We needed to get some momentum, and hopefully tonight we got some."
While Jesuit's winning streak met the kind of fate befitting a place named Death Valley, Gaither's season now looks more alive than ever.