ST. PETERSBURG — Facing third and goal from the Lakewood 11-yard line with the score tied at 28 and just 39 seconds remaining, Northeast coach Jay Austin turned to field goal kicker Lukasz Chrzastek to ask what side of the field he preferred to kick from.
Chrzastek motioned toward the right hash but added "the middle would be best."
The Vikings promptly ran left, setting up a potential winning 23-yard field goal from the left hash, which apparently made no difference to Chrzastek. The senior kicker split the uprights with 25 seconds left on the clock, and the Vikings survived a last-gasp attempt from Lakewood to win 31-28 in thrilling fashion.
"Guys were coming up to me saying 'you got this,' " Chrzastek said. "The coach had confidence in me. I was just trying to deliver for him."
Chrzastek's winner almost ended up as a footnote after Lakewood's Bernard Reedy fielded the ensuing kickoff at his 36 and ran to the Northeast 12. With 10 seconds remaining, Spartans QB Jacquez Jenkins (9-for-16, 159 yards) tried throwing a slant into the end zone, but Northeast (5-3, 3-1) was flagged for pass interference.
Jenkins came back with the same throw on the next play, but Northeast's Tim Tisdale was waiting to pick off Jenkins and preserve the win.
"It was basically the same play," said Tisdale, who had 82 yards rushing on 92 carries. "They tried to cross us up, I dropped back and got the pick."
The game turned in Northeast's favor late in the first half when Antonio Aponte picked off a Jenkins pass and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown. That put Northeast ahead 21-14. Aponte intercepted another Jenkins pass with seconds remaining in the half and Lakewood (6-2, 3-1) again driving.
The Vikings took a two touchdown advantage on an 18-yard run to paydirt from Juarez Wynn (17 carries, 100 yards, one touchdown catch) in the third. Jenkins made the score 28-21 in the fourth on a 2-yard sneak, and Reedy recovered a Wynn fumble on the next drive and ran it back 26 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
Offensively, Northeast controlled the line of scrimmage, gashing the Spartans for 283 rushing yards and more than 5 yards a carry. The Vikings, which had a 17-play scoring drive to open the game, again went 17 plays to set up Chrzastek's clinching field goal.