TAMPA — Even Sickles defensive end Tyler Gimbert, the most confident of Gryphons, went into the locker room worried.
Playoffs came four weeks early for Sickles, which needed a win over district foe Boca Ciega ON Friday night to preserve its postseason dreams, and the Gryphons headed into the locker room at halftime down by 15.
"We told them at halftime that it was a pride thing," Gryphons coach Pat O'Brien said. "They had to take a little bit of individual pride. We felt like some things happened that we kind of gave them. We had to tighten up ourselves. It was a personal challenge. We had to toughen up."
The Gryphons came out and dominated the second half — the defense holding Boca Ciega to 23 yards after the half — and sophomore kicker Andres Vasquez's 37-yard field goal in overtime gave Sickles a 31-28 overtime win.
With the victory, Sickles (5-1, 1-1) controls its playoff fate. A win over Leto in two weeks will seal the runnerup spot in District 4A-10.
"We knew we were better than that," said Gimbert, who tallied four sacks. "We just had to pick it up. This isn't the same ol' Sickles. We are here. We are definitely here. We came out and we dominated the second half. That's how a good football team wins."
While running back Cary White carried the load in the first half, rushing for 108 of his game-high 132 yards, quarterback John Melvin Hendrick took the reins in the second half, running Sickles' option offense to perfection. His 69-yard option keeper for a touchdown made the game 22-20 and after a Bogie score then had two big double-digit runs the Gryphons' winning drive.
"They outplayed us in the second half," Pirates coach Stevie Thomas said. "We just didn't get the job done. They made the plays and we didn't. It was that simple. They weren't doing anything they weren't doing in the first half. We just didn't execute offensively or defensively."
Boca Ciega (2-3, 1-1) took advantage of Sickles' gaffes in the first half — it returned a kickoff return it fumbled for a touchdown, then scored again on a deflected pass — to take a 22-7 halftime lead before Sickles fought back to force overtime.
Vasquez missed a 49-yard field goal attempt with 29 seconds left in regulation, lining the kick under the posts. But senior Chris Nahat intercepted Boca Ciega quarterback Shaquille Bradford on the second play of overtime, setting up another opportunity for Vasquez.
"It went like slow motion for me," Nahat said. "That's the time where you can make history."
And now this group of Gryphons has made its own.
"This game put the spotlight on us," Gimbert said. "We weren't on the map before this. We weren't even considered to be even a top-20 team. We came out and we changed the whole attitude of this team."