ST. PETERSBURG — It was widely assumed fans would be pulling neck muscles watching all the scoring plays from Gibbs Friday night.
After all, the Gladiators have scored more than 30 points in each of their past four games.
Gibbs, though, was not able to pile up the points on offense. Northeast doused the fireworks by playing ball control on offense and limiting the big plays on defense. Still, the Gladiators found other ways to score in a 23-7 victory that puts them in the driver's seat for a playoff berth in Class 5A, District 9.
It was the first time in 15 years Gibbs beat the Vikings. And if the Gladiators win the next two weeks, they'll wrap up their first district title in school history.
"We knew it was going to be a tough, physical, defensive game," Gibbs defensive end Tim Jackson said. "We just had to play with a lot of emotion and rally to win."
The Gladiators (4-3, 2-0) scored first when Mycobi Lee returned a blocked punt 27 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Northeast (3-4, 1-2) controlled the tempo the rest of the half by playing keep away with a strong running game. Tavares Dunlap capped one drive by scoring on a 3-yard run to tie it. The turning point came in the fourth quarter when the Vikings had an 11-yard punt deep in their own territory. Gibbs had the ball at the 21 and took advantage of the short field with a 12-yard touchdown by Mike Kendricks.
Northeast fumbled on its next possession. The Gladiators turned that into a 27-yard field goal by Brandon Clemons to make it 16-7. After the Vikings turned it over on downs, Gibbs rounded out scoring on an 8-yard pass from Josh Rembert to Jarqine Butler.
"We expected this to be a tough one," Gladiators coach Donnie Abraham said. "…We made some mistakes in the first half, but we made the right adjustments and didn't panic. That's where I feel we're starting to grow up as a team."