Two Class 6A, District 6 teams had the chance Friday night to prove themselves against stiff competition outside of their district.
Both teams entered their contests with identical 5-2 records, and both teams were coming off of impressive district victories. For Gaither it was handing Hillsborough, its first loss last week. For Leto, it was notching its first win in a decade at Chamberlain.
The Cowboys had a chance to defeat Friday Class 6A, District 7 power Winter Haven at home, while the Falcons had the chance to pull off the upset of the year in their homecoming game against Sarasota Riverview, the state's No. 2 team in Class 6A.
And both teams made a struggle of it.
Gaither outgained a speedy Winter Haven team on the ground 228 to 141 while Leto outrushed Riverview 230 to 211. Both teams stayed close in the first half, with Gaither trailing 13-9 and Leto down 14-10 at halftime.
Both teams seemed within striking distance of a win _ until the fourth quarter.
Gaither had overcome early mistakes to take a 16-13 lead in the third quarter, but the Cowboys couldn't overcome mistakes in the fourth.
The final drive ended in frustration when quarterback Steve Hillmon ran into fullback Brian Wyatt, who was too tired to sprint out for the lead block.
Miscues also cost Leto in the fourth period. Sarasota Riverview's Carlton Boyce scored a touchdown from 1 yard out and the Falcons failed to pull any closer when they couldn't convert on fourth-and-inches near the Ram goal line. But it was a fumbled handoff by quarterback Jesse Lowery that doomed the Falcons. Sarasota Riverview recovered and drove 18 yards in five plays as quarterback Greg Hill scored the touchdown that sealed Leto's fate.
Both teams have the chance to rebound in important district games next week with Gaither at Chamberlain and Leto at Brandon.