TAMPA — It came down to quarterback John Melvin Hendrick, before it came down to Chris Nahat, which was just a few minutes before it came down to Andres Vasquez, and then it just came down — the ball, floating through the uprights, and then bouncing crazily into the dark and joyous night just like the Sickles sideline.
The Gryphons didn't clinch a playoff spot Friday night by beating Boca Ciega in overtime, but shhhhh.
They trailed 22-7 at halftime, and losing would have eliminated them from the 4A-10 race, after the best start in history, and made this the saddest season in school history.
The last four games of the season would have been for nothing, really, no matter what the coaches might tell them.
Nothing at all.
"I told them at halftime, this is a personal challenge," said coach Pat O'Brien. "If you lose, you don't go to the playoffs, and you don't deserve to, and instead we're playing the rest of the season for a bowl game or something."
Hendrick couldn't do much right in the first half, that much you could hear every time he came to the sideline. He wasn't reading plays correctly, his throws were sailing, and he was hearing about it.
In the second half, he could hardly do anything wrong.
He ran 68 yards for one score, right after Bogie quickly went three incompletions and out, to make it 22-20.
He then engineered a 75-yard drive, capped by Brieann Dollard's touchdown run, but even more remarkably threw a perfect pass that Dollard tip-toed across the back line of the end zone for, a two-point conversion that tied the game with five minutes left and forced overtime.
"I felt I had to come out here and lead my team," said Hendrick. "I had to try to get us to the playoffs."
His 68-yard run changed the flow of the game for good.
Boca Ciega managed one scoring drive in the second half, but its line had no answer for Sickles' front, and quarterback Shaquille Bradford and a non-existent running attack couldn't slow the Gryphons.
Nahat, a receiver, has logged only a handful of plays on defense this season. In overtime, he came in as a defensive back, and on second down made the clinching interception in the end zone.
His touchdown catch was Sickles' first score in the second half, the one that got the offense going. His interception sealed a near-perfect second half for the defense, after a halftime break wondering if the season was, at least for those who play these things for the playoffs, nearing an end.
"That would have been terrible," Nahat said. "If we would have lost …," then Nahat could only shudder at the thought.
Vasquez tried a 49-yard kick with 30 seconds left to win the game, but it sailed long and low.
In overtime, on the first play after Nahat's interception, he was true with the winner.
Defensive end Tyler Gimbert, completely breathless after number of big tackles behind the line of scrimmage, couldn't even remember his kicker's last name.
"Andres … something."
What Gimbert meant, however, was Andres Everything.
The sophomore may not be a household name on his own team yet, but for this night, he's a hero.
After Hendrick, after Nahat, heck even after Dollard and Eric Taris and D.J. Olusanya and Ian Hopkins and Cary White had their turns, he saved the Sickles season.
They gathered around him, teammates and fans and cheerleaders and mugged for cameras and chanted and cheered afterward.
O'Brien's voice came booming down, breaking up the party, reminding them they still had one more do-or-die game to win, and the Gryphons scattered and walked off to the locker room still feeling a little crazy on their dark and joyous night.