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Spongers top Rebels for flag football title

Tarpon Springs junior Marnisha Hardy is the Class 3A, District 9 champion in the 100-meter sprint.

Monday at Dixie Hollins in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference flag football championship game, Hardy proved to be pretty fast over about half that distance. Flashing the blazing speed she uses on the track, Hardy dashed 53 yards around left end for a touchdown with a minute remaining to lift the Spongers to a 19-13 win over Dixie Hollins.

"(Hardy's) been doing that all year for us, saving us at the end or putting it out of reach," said Tarpon Springs coach Mark Davis moments after receiving a ceremonial ice-water dousing. "It was a very tough game. It could have gone either way. We feel very fortunate."

The Spongers appeared on the verge of defeat late in the fourth quarter. Dixie Hollins (7-1) led 13-12, and then the Rebels' Sheylia Rutland scored on a quarterback keeper with about 2 minutes remaining. However, Rutland was penalized for flag-guarding, and the Rebels turned the ball over on downs.

Two plays later, Hardy took a pitch from quarterback Georganna Frantzis and outraced the defense down the left sideline.

"All we needed was the ball back and we knew we were going to win," Hardy said. "We just needed the ball."

Dixie Hollins took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter on a 10-yard pass from Rutland to Chantel Dorsey. After an interception by Hardy, the Spongers tied the game at the start of the second quarter on a misdirection pass play. Frantzis threw back to her left, where Lisa Johnson was all alone for the 6-yard score.

Tarpon Springs took a 12-6 lead just before halftime. On fourth-and-goal from the 20, Frantzis passed down the right sideline, hitting Jessica Moore in stride between two defenders for the score.

Dixie Hollins tied the game with a touchdown on the opening possession of the third quarter. Rutland handed off to Jennifer Bech, who lateraled back to Rutland, who passed to a wide-open Brandy Lovelady for an 8-yard score. The Rebels took the 13-12 lead on a 5-yard pass for the extra point from Rutland to Brandy Christopher.

It remained that way until Hardy broke her long run. The Rebels got the ball back one final time, but the Spongers stopped them on downs.

The win caps an unbeaten (8-0) season for Tarpon Springs, and the Spongers are 20-2 in three years of flag football. Seminole won the conference title in 1998, Lakewood in 1999.