TAMPA — The decision was made as soon as Hillsborough got the ball back. Trailing by a touchdown with just over four minutes remaining against Tampa Bay Tech, the Terriers had the ball on their own 6-yard line.
They hadn't been able to move the ball the entire second half, but veteran coach Earl Garcia knew he had to have a plan in case his team found the end zone. Ten plays, two 15-yard roughing penalties and a 5-yard touchdown run by Adonis Johnson later, and, sure enough, Hillsborough was in the end zone.
The Terriers called two straight timeouts to get the two-point conversion play right. Quarterback Charlie Dean took the shotgun snap, found no one open to the left and threw into the right corner. But cornerback Jeremiah Brown stepped in and intercepted the pass.
Final: Tampa Bay Tech 28, Hillsborough 27.
"Got to go for two there, absolutely," Garcia said. "We just made some errors. It was a heck of a game."
Garcia said if it was a district game he might have thought about extending the game into overtime. Instead, he forced the Titans to stop them one last time.
"The defense was where they were supposed to be," Brown said. "Charlie didn't have anywhere to throw."
The Titans (4-0) played very good defense for most of the second half. After Tampa Bay Tech's Treshaun Ward ran in from 1 yard to make it 28-21 to start the third quarter, the Terriers put together a drive of their own. But Dean was intercepted in the end zone by Harvey Bivins on third and goal from the 4 to kill the drive.
"My heart just smiles for that kid," TBT coach Jayson Roberts said. "That was the first play we put him in the game and he comes through."
Dean, who threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns, was intercepted again in the fourth quarter to end another drive. It turned out that the Titans only needed one touchdown in the second half to win. Midway through the fourth quarter, Ward left the game with cramps. He finished with 145 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
It didn't take long for each offense to establish itself in the first half. On their first drive, the Terriers (1-3) went 80 yards on nine plays and scored when Dean hit Willie Gilliespy on a 20-yard touchdown pass.
The Titans needed much less time to score their first touchdown. With Ward in the Wildcat formation, he ran three times, gained 55 yards and scored untouched on a 15-yard run to make it 7-7.
Dean threw his second touchdown pass of the half on Hillsborough's next possession. He found Terence Doston in the corner of the end zone from 18 yards for a 14-7 lead. Then the Terriers ran into a bad stretch.
After dodging trouble when the Titans were unable to capitalize on a blocked punt, Dean threw an interception on the second play of the following drive. Joe Lewis returned it 35 yards to even the score at 14-14.
A fumble on the next offensive play gave Tampa Bay Tech the ball on their own 40-yard line. Four plays later, Jamarcus Robertson scored on a 20-yard run, his only run of the half.
Dean redeemed himself on the next drive. He connected with Doston again, this time a nicely placed throw down the sideline that turned into a 52-yard touchdown with 47 seconds left. That made it 21-21 at halftime and very much up for grabs.
Doston finished with 131 yards receiving and had two big catches on Hillsborough's final 94-yard drive.
"We're the best 1-3 team in the state of Florida, I'll promise you that," said Garcia, who will have to wait at least another week before attempting to tie his mentor, Billy Turner, for most wins (254) in Tampa Bay.
“We’ll get it going. That was a non-district game so we’re still undefeated in the district. Back to work at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.”