NEW PORT RICHEY — After a half in which they failed to move the ball when they weren't fumbling it away, the Gulf Buccaneers went into the locker room and, from the looks of it, handed their uniforms to completely different guys who came out and dominated Hudson in the second half en route to a 31-22 win at Des Little Stadium on Friday night.
The differences could not have been more striking.
Gulf ran for 93 yards in the second half — after rushing for negative yards in the first — and Hudson ran for 8. The Bucs scored on four of their five possessions, and the only drive they failed to score on was the best drive of all as they were able to take a knee and let the clock run out, securing the first two-game win streak for the program since 2010.
A loss would have ended the Bucs' playoff chances, but the win puts them right in the hunt in Class 5A-7.
"The kids knew the importance of it," said coach Jason Messamore. "It's been a long time since this team has made the playoffs and we kept telling them this week that this was like a playoff game. If we lose, we're done, if we win, we're still alive. That's how we treated it."
The Bucs, who trailed 15-7 at halftime, went to Raiqwan Hayes more in the second half at quarterback, as starter Keshaun Peters was nursing a sore hip.
Hayes led the Bucs on a 50-yard scoring drive to start the second half, running for 10 yards and throwing for 14 before cutting in for a 6-yard touchdown.
After Hudson went three-and-out, the Bucs went 44 yards to set up the go-ahead 38-yard field goal by Anthony Beccaria as the Cobras (3-2, 1-1) started falling apart.
Two sacks on fourth downs by Uly Velez on different drives set up touchdown runs by Ja'Marquise Stewart and Hayes, the last one coming with 3:46 remaining to seal the win.
After a week in which they built a huge lead against Land O'Lakes and played poorly in the second half, allowing the Gators to nearly rally to a victory, the Bucs (3-2, 1-1) saved their best for last against the rival Cobras. The Buc scoring drives in the second half covered 50, 23, 52 and 33 yards, with Hayes running seven times for 49 yards.
"Gave me a heart attack," Messamore said of the turnaround. "I just think it was more the kids paying attention to detail. First half we made a few mistakes, we were making the wrong reads at the line of scrimmage. I think we just went back to doing what do, nothing fancy. We just blocked better and tackled better."
The Gulf defense was outstanding. It held a Hudson ground attack that had rushed for 938 yards and nine touchdowns the previous two games to 8 yards on 18 carries in the second half, and 124 yards overall. The Cobras were hurt by the ejection of left tackle Grayson Stover, and an aggressive Gulf pass rush took full advantage in the second half as Hudson tried to rally.