TAMPA — Jefferson defensive back Deandre Hollins intercepted a pass Thursday night and returned the ball near midfield where he was tackled hard by Middleton defenders.
A referee threw a flag for a late hit out of bounds on the Jefferson sideline. Players from both sides shoved each other. Fists balled. Elbows flew.
Dozens of Middleton players charged from their sideline and sprinted across the field. They were met by Jefferson players. Both sides, en masse, began shoving and throwing punches.
For a minute or two it was a full-on brawl: Middleton maroon and gold clashing with Jefferson royal blue and gold.
Attempting to stop the fight, coaches and administrators from both schools jumped in the fray, screamed and hollered, and finally separated the players.
In separate end zones, coaches berated the players while officials convened near midfield to figure out what to do next.
A few minutes later, officials determined that the game was suspended because the only way to identify the guilty parties (because there were so many players involved) was to review the tape, a responsibly that ultimately fell on the Florida High School Athletic Association.
So, pending more developments/determinations, Jefferson leads Middleton 17-3 with four minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
That could end up being the final result of a key Class 5A, District 10 matchup or … who knows?
"We have to see what the FHSAA determines," Middleton athletic director Don Hill said. "As an athletic director of a school this is so disappointing to see something like this happen. It was a terrible thing to see."
Before the third-quarter melee, Jefferson (2-1, 0-0) appeared to have the upper hand on the field of play, holding Middleton (3-0, 0-0) to just 30 yards total offense.
Jefferson supplied momentary offensive sparks (see Niko Duffey, 13 carries, 65 yards) and quarterback Matt Gaffney (9-of-13, 119 yards), but the Dragons also struggled with turnovers (three lost fumbles) and committed numerous penalties (11 for 110 yards).
"We made more than our share of mistakes during the game," said Jefferson assistant coach Carl Canion, who the past few weeks has replaced head coach Jeremy Earle, who is sitting out a suspension. "Hopefully everything will work out for us.
"Overall, tonight, all of this was unfortunate for everybody."