PLANT CITY — All season, East Bay High School had found ways to eke out gritty victories, with second-half safeties or botched punts or fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
Monday night in the biggest two quarters of the Indians' season, East Bay did it again.
The Indians scored two last-minute touchdowns — one against Strawberry Crest and another against Plant City — to win the Class 7A, District 8 title in a three-team tiebreaker at Plant City.
"I feel like we've been battle tested, and we proved it tonight," East Bay coach Frank LaRosa said. "Holy cow, that was awesome."
East Bay's first district championship since 1973 gives the Indians a home game against Gaither for the first round of the Class 7A playoffs.
Plant City rebounded to edge Strawberry Crest 6-0 in the final 12-minute game. That sends the Raiders to Sickles for the 7A region quarterfinals and ends the Chargers' hopes of their first playoff appearance.
East Bay's latest heroics started with a dominant defensive performance. Plant City and Strawberry Crest combined for 45 yards against the Indians, who earned six of their seven regular-season victories by one score.
East Bay (7-3) capitalized on a short field late in its first game against Strawberry Crest (6-3), with Chris Greene bulldozing for a 17-yard touchdown with 57 seconds left to secure the first win.
"I can't put it into words …" LaRosa said. "These guys are just absolutely resilient. They're warriors. They're fighters. They're all those words synonymous with kids who just do not give up."
That was even more evident in the second game against the Raiders (7-2). Plant City drove to the East Bay 28 on its only possession, but Anton Crutcher leapt for an interception at the 5 to give the Indians the ball back with a few minutes left.
Quarterback Chris Carpentier led East Bay on a 10-play, 95-yard drive, picking up a key third-down conversion on a 23-yard pass to Eric Latortue.
Then with 36 seconds left, Carpentier found Randen Cortez alone in the end zone for the winning 20-yard touchdown pass.
"I just put it in the spot where only he could get it…" said Carpentier, who was 3-for-3 passing for 47 yards on the final drive. "We ain't done yet."
Neither is Plant City, which clinched its first playoff appearance since 2010 with strong defense of its own.
The Raiders' only score came with two minutes left, when Strawberry Crest dropped back to pass on second and long. Matt Tucker flew in from the blind side for a sack and jarred the ball loose for Sedrick King to swoop it up.
"It was down there for a long time," said King, a UCF commit. "Luckily I saw it at the last second."
King ran it 16 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The Chargers drove into Plant City territory on their final drive, but Tucker and John Broome each had sacks to seal the Raiders' third trip to the playoffs in the past five seasons.
Staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.