TAMPA — The most excruciating defeat of Deiondre Porter's career started with a turnover and ended with tears.
For a quarterback who prides himself on his propensity for amnesia — forgetting a misstep and moving on — even this was too painful to file away.
For the second game in a row, Jefferson had taken a three-touchdown lead on a playoff-caliber foe — this time Hillsborough — only to squander it by halftime. Porter drove straight to his Riverview home after that 36-28 defeat, bereft of consolation.
"I cried," said Porter, who attends Jefferson as a magnet student.
He was hardly the lone wounded Dragon. Ask coach Jeremy Earle how long that 11-month-old defeat stuck with him, and he replies, "Since now."
"Kids shouldn't have to go through that," said Earle, whose team similarly had blown a 21-point lead at Armwood in a 35-21 loss the Friday before. "Especially two weeks in a row."
Turned out, fate was as galvanizing as it was cruel. When the crying subsided, rallying crying began. Earle said his team found motivation. Maturity followed.
Since that defeat to the Terriers on Oct. 5, 2012, Jefferson has not lost a game — preseason or otherwise.
Tonight, the Dragons get the Terriers in a critical district rematch.
"We were at a turning point where they could've all started pointing fingers and making excuses and doing that kind of stuff, and they all stuck together and really grew from it," Earle said.
"As bad as it looked and as bad as it seemed and as much as it made everybody really have to make that decision, everybody made the right one and it really brought everybody together. A bad moment turned into such a powerful thing."
Yet the moment itself remains seared in Earle's and Porter's respective cerebrums.
His team leading by 15, Earle watched the Dragons get a pick at their own goal line, and presumed a touchback. When the ball was placed at the 1, Hillsborough converted a safety.
The Terriers got outstanding field position on the ensuing free kick and scored shortly thereafter on Nigel Harris' 10-yard run, making it 21-15. Then, just before halftime, Porter said he employed a play called "St. Louis," a corner post route designed to go atop the safety.
His pass bounced off normally sure-handed receiver Jonathan Moore into the hands of Anthony King, who returned it to the Jefferson 11. With 24 ticks remaining before halftime, Terriers quarterback Dwayne Lawson gave Hillsborough a 22-21 lead with a 9-yard touchdown run.
"We probably had already run that (pass play) 10 times in games and it worked every time," Porter recalled.
Even more wrenching to Earle was how his running game failed to materialize in the second half. Its receivers blanketed by Hillsborough's cover-two man scheme, Jefferson failed to compensate on the ground.
But in five of the Dragons' six regular-season games since, they've run for at least 100 yards. In the sixth, a 41-8 romp of King, they ran for 97.
"It really was a turning point," Earle said. "We haven't looked back and we've won some games big since then, but we've turned into a different team."
And an undefeated one.
Joey Knight can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.