TARPON SPRINGS — For three glorious quarters, East Lake had the momentum and the lead against its fiercest rival.
Then came the onslaught.
In a span of 10 minutes Thursday, Tarpon Springs scored 21 points, more than enough to beat the Eagles 27-17.
"The problem with this team is we start slow," Spongers coach George Kotis said. "But we contradict that by being great at overcoming adversity. In the second half, I think we decided to turn it up a notch."
The first half, though, belonged to the Eagles. Using ball-control offense, East Lake dictated the tempo with guileless runs up the middle. It helped chew up yards and the clock.
It also produced points.
In the second quarter, the Eagles scored on a 4-yard run by Derek Hunter. Travis Mullen added the extra point to make it 7-0, a lead that stood at the half.
Tarpon Springs (2-0) started the third quarter by recovering an onside kick. That led to a 16-yard touchdown run by Marcus Nemeth. The extra point was blocked.
Two possessions later, East Lake drove to the 10-yard line before settling on a 27-yard field by Mullen to make it 10-6 to end the third.
"That was a big point in the game," Eagles coach Bob Hudson said. "We had the ball inside the 10-yard line and couldn't get a touchdown. It helped turn the momentum."
In a close game where field position mattered, Tarpon Springs started its next possession on the 25-yard line.
The drive ended 15 plays, 75 yards and a staggering eight minutes later in the end zone. Ladarrius Only finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Spongers their first lead.
"That score was big for me because this is my first time playing against East Lake," said Only, a junior who was suspended the first two weeks of the season for disciplinary reasons. "We needed that."
The drive didn't end the show for East Lake (1-2), but the credits were ready to roll.
Forced to pass, the Eagles turned the ball over twice on their next two possessions. The first came when Tarpon's Stamati Damalos picked off a pass and returned it to the East Lake 1. Marcelle Lewis scored on a short plunge to put the Spongers ahead 20-10.
The other turnover came when Eagles quarterback Sam Shaffer was hit from behind and fumbled. Tarpon's Dre Danapas scooped it up and ran 14 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-10.
"When we want to crank the throttle, we can be a pretty good football team," Kotis said. "We showed that in the fourth quarter."
East Lake tacked on a late score as Shaffer hit Tyler Higbee on a 5-yard pass.
"We just made too many mistakes and gave up too much at the end," Hudson said.
Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4169.