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Mistakes trip up Cowboys

Gaither coach Joe Severino stood on the field moments after his team's 20-16 loss to Winter Haven and talked about the play that could have won the game for the Cowboys.

"It should have been quarterback Steve Hillmon on a pass-run option with Brian Wyatt running lead block," he said. "And we should have run it to the right side."

But the Cowboys didn't. Instead, with Gaither facing a third-and-goal situation on Winter Haven's 6-yard line with less than a minute left, Severino sent in two plays designed to get the winning score before time expired. One was a option play to the left, the other a running play up the middle.

On third down, Hillmon took the snap and ran left, only to run into Wyatt, who didn't move quickly enough. The Blue Devils' defense quickly brought Hillmon down for a 7-yard loss.

With no timeouts left, the Cowboys offense quickly lined up and executed the running play: Wyatt up the middle. It was good for 4 yards, and the Blue Devils took over and ran the clock out, leaving the stunned Cowboys sitting in silence on the field.

That was just one of several Gaither miscues Friday night that cost the Cowboys a chance at a non-district win at home.

Gaither's first mistake came on the opening kickoff, when an offsides penalty forced the Cowboys to re-kick the ball. Blue Devils wideout Avery Willis ran back the second kick 95 yards for a touchdown.

Winter Haven took a 13-0 lead when tailback Keno Weekfall scored from 39 yards out; the extra point attempt was missed. Gaither came back in the second quarter with nine points, three on Ryan Lund's 32-yard field goal and six on Hillmon's 1-yard touchdown plunge. A two-point conversion attempt failed.

The Cowboys kept it up offensively in the second half, as Hillmon scored another touchdown on a quarterback keeper in the third to give Gaither a 16-13 advantage. Winter Haven retook the lead on Weekfall's 5-yard touchdown run.

But mistakes killed Gaither in the fourth. First, it was a fumble by Wyatt on a Gaither drive deep into Blue Devils territory. Then it was a costly facemask penalty just when the Cowboys thought they had stopped the Blue Devils on third down.

Cowboys defensive back Ryan Beaudoin gave Gaither one last chance with his second interception of Winter Haven quarterback Dominic Henry, this one with just minutes left in the fourth. But the final drive, the potential game-winner, ended in frustration for the Cowboys just yards shy of the end zone.

"I'll take responsibility for this one," Severino said. "We should have just pushed the ball right into the end zone. But this loss really doesn't affect our playoff chances. What we have to do now is come back and beat Chamberlain next week over there."