TARPON SPRINGS — In the first Class 5A, District 9 game for both Gibbs and Tarpon Springs, neither team played especially well. But the Spongers played just a little bit better in a 14-8 win Thursday night.
The teams combined for 32 penalties for 255 yards. They both had two turnovers each within the first six minutes of the game. But Tarpon Springs was able to score two touchdowns in the first half and hang on in the second half to keep its playoff hopes alive. Under the new playoff system, teams in Class 5A and above are only guaranteed a postseason spot by winning their district.
"We've got a lot of work to do," said Dee Wright, who led all rushers with 95 yards on 14 carries. "We did what we had to do but we can do better than that. We wanted to build a bigger lead in the second half but that didn't happen."
In the first quarter, Ennis Hill returned an interception 40 yards to make the score 6-0. It was the second interception freshman quarterback Cornelius McKenzie threw in the quarter. In the second quarter, Tarpon Springs quarterback Justice Parham, back from an opening-game injury, hit J'Von France on a 53-yard pass that brought the ball to the Gibbs' 1-yard line. Wright scored from a yard out. The two-point conversion made it 14-0.
The Spongers had the ball very little in the second half.
Their first two series were three-and-outs. Gibbs made it close by scoring on its first possession of the third quarter. McKenzie scored on a 14-yard run that capped a nine-play drive to cut the lead to 14-6. The two-point conversion failed.
After another three-and-out by the Spongers, Gibbs put together a long drive that eventually stalled. The Gladiators punted the ball to the Tarpon Springs 2-yard line. On the first play, Adam Hardy was tackled in the end zone for a safety that made the score 14-8 in the fourth quarter.
But McKenzie and backup quarterback Deonnte Brooks both were injured late in the quarter and Gibbs was unable to get anything going.
"We were still in the game even though we were down to our emergency quarterback," Gibbs coach Antonio Knox said. "We were in a world of trouble. I give (Tarpon) credit for packing the box. We couldn't get anything going."
Gibbs was held to 91 passing yards. Tarpon Springs threw for only 64 yards.