EAST LAKE — The old saying is it's not how you start, but how you finish. However, in Friday night's Class 7A region semifinal between East Lake and Tampa Bay Tech, it was how the game started that determined the outcome.
East Lake scored 20 first-quarter points, 13 of which came on Tampa Bay Tech miscues, and the Eagles shut out the Titans in the second half for a 20-14 win. East Lake (9-1) will play at Venice on Friday in the regional final. Tampa Bay Tech ends its season 9-2.
"I honestly thought that our lead would hold up in the second half because our defense is so good,'' said East Lake running back Xavier Jackson, who scored twice and gained 102 yards on 23 carries. "And on offense, we just had to hold the ball and keep it away from them.''
Mistakes were costly for both teams in the first half.
Tampa Bay Tech couldn't have started much worse. After forcing an East Lake punt on its first possession, the Titans fumbled on their second play from scrimmage. That gave the Eagles the ball on the TBT 27. Four plays later, Jackson scored on a 10-yard draw to make it 6-0. The extra point failed.
"That's our main running play,'' Jackson said. "Our offensive line made a huge hole and I just had to run through it.''
On the Titans second possession, East Lake forced a punt after holding TBT on third and 1 from the 29. The snap went over punter Thomas Covington's head and the Eagles got the ball on the 5. Jackson made it 13-0 when he scored on the first play.
East Lake made it 20-0 late in the quarter without the Titans help. On third and 11, quarterback Tyler Rupe hit Bryce Miller in the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown.
"No, it could not have started any better, except for missing the extra point,'' East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. "And as for that lead holding up, I wasn't sure. After what they did last week to St. Pete (48-45 in double overtime), I wasn't sure. They strike so fast.''
Tampa Bay Tech got within 20-14 on a Michael Penix 6-yard touchdown pass to Daquon Green and a 49-yard interception return by Darius Green.