PALM HARBOR — Palm Harbor University's storybook run toward its first district championship will have to wait a few more days for its ending.
Dunedin, behind a first-half offensive explosion and a couple key plays by its defense in the second, held on to defeat the Hurricanes 30-28 and force a three-way tiebreaker Monday between Countryside, Dunedin and PHU for two playoff spots.
Dunedin (7-2, 3-1) almost had the game won before halftime after going ahead 20-0 early in the second quarter. The Falcons went 10 plays on the first drive and took a 7-0 lead when Ryan Singer hit Darius Bellamy for an 8-yard catch-and-run.
After a fumble on its next possession, Dunedin again hit pay dirt when Singer kept from 2 yards out on a sneak. That score was set up by Kim Howard's 57-yard punt return to the Hurricanes' 23-yard line. Singer scored on his second touchdown run in the second from a yard out to put the Falcons in control at 20-0.
PHU (6-3, 3-1) got back into the game just before the half when quarterback Sean Shelton hit Mike McNeely for an 11-yard touchdown.
Shelton engineered a 14-play, 79 yard touchdown drive coming out of halftime, running into the end zone from 2 yards out to make the score 20-14.
After a Dunedin three-and-out, PHU took its first lead early in the fourth when Shelton hooked up again with McNeely, this time for a 16-yard pass.
Howard came up big for Dunedin a second time on the ensuing kickoff, returning it 55 yards to the PHU 32. T.J. Day made a 30-yard field goal to put Dunedin back on top 23-21.
Facing fourth and 1 from its 32, PHU coach Pete Just called for a fake punt, but the snap was mishandled by the upback. Dunedin's Ali Cheaib scooped up the fumble and returned it 32 yards for what appeared to be an insurmountable 30-21 lead.
When Cheaib intercepted Shelton in the end zone with just more than two minutes left, it appeared PHU's storybook run would come to a close.
"We challenge the kids to get something going on defense, to score on defense, to create turnovers," Dunedin coach Mark Everett said. "Ali had a monster night."
PHU got the ball back at its 45 after a Dunedin fumble and Shelton hit McNeely for his third touchdown catch with 1:13 left.
PHU recovered an onside kick at the Dunedin 40 and was setting up for the winning score, but on the first play Shelton was hit as he was about to throw and Dunedin's Kyle Pedretty recovered to preserve the victory.