TAMPA — The legendary Middleton-Blake rivalry was a knock-down, drag-out defensive battle from start to finish Friday night.
When the hard knocks finally ended — after a last-second attempt to score by Middleton near the Blake goal line — Blake left the field with coveted cross-town bragging rights, winning 14-7.
One of the night's most bruised performers, Blake sophomore running back Omarion Coleman, was also one of the toughest, carrying the ball 19 times for 88 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run.
"It was hard hitting," said Coleman, who didn't have a carry for more than 9 yards. "But that's good. That's how we like it."
For Middleton (3-3) it was a tough ending to a weird eight days that included: ending a game against Jefferson in the third quarter after a brawl broke out; getting 16 players in the fight suspended for a game the following Monday; then playing arch-rival Blake without two still suspended key defenders, safety Kenny Wilson and linebacker Davion Oliver.
"It was a very, very tough week to gain focus," Middleton coach Fred Reid said. "But the good thing is that we have learned from all this. We will get better after this and we have plenty of hope left for the season. We are still very much alive."
In the beginning Friday, it looked as if Middleton just might pull out the victory, scoring first in the first quarter on a 28-yard pass to Curtavian Simpson.
After that, however, Middleton suffered too many penalties (eight for 60 yards in the first half), missed a short field goal and lost a fumble on the Blake 20-yard line: All mistakes that cost the Tigers dearly.
"We have to clean that stuff up," Reid said. "We will."
Blake (4-3) also made its share of mistakes with penalties and some loose defensive lapses, but the Yellow Jackets made up for it with a relentless pass rush (see four sacks) and hard hitting all over the field.
In the second quarter, Blake put together a 71-yard touchdown drive that ended with Coleman's 4-yard touchdown run. Coleman then added a run for a two-point conversion to give Blake an 8-7 lead.
In the game's final seconds — after a 50-yard Tiger completion with less than a minute remaining — Middleton had a last-second shot at victory before Blake tackled Middleton quarterback Cyrus Wade on fourth down at the Blake 11-yard line.
"Giving up those big plays has been our problem all year," Thomas said. "If we don't give up those big plays we can beat anybody. I know we can do it."