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Football: Gaither 36, Jefferson 14

Quarterback Tony Bartalo shines for the Cowboys, while the Dragons lose their cool in the second half.
Week 1 of high school football kicked off across Tampa Bay on Friday night. [Times]
Published Aug. 24

TAMPA — The Gaither offense opened the season with the same successful formula that worked last year when the Cowboys averaged 319 yards per game and scored 35 touchdowns. Using the quick-release arm of quarterback of Tony Bartalo and a crew of varied running backs, Gaither kept defenders guessing to take a 22-point lead against Jefferson on Friday night.

Jefferson rallied for 14 points late in the first half, but any hopes of a comeback were dashed when three Jefferson players were ejected in the third quarter of Gaither’s 36-14, penalty-filled victory.

Two years after a brawl between Jefferson and Middleton stopped play early and resulted in 20 suspensions, officials stopped play Friday in the third quarter when a fight had to be broken up after a third-down play near Jefferson’s 30-yard line. Armwood transfer Tre Simmons, the starting Jefferson quarterback who threw two first-half touchdown passes, was among those ejected.

RELATED: Gaither pulls no punches with football schedule

“You don’t want to see that. It’s a shame those kids got ejected and some of them may miss more games in their senior season,” Gaither coach Kirk Karsen said. “I wouldn’t want that on any kid.”

Both teams were cited for numerous personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and totaled 32 overall.

Officials stopped play and called timeout to let both sides cool off and defuse the tension. Once play resumed, Bartalo completed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Oladokun that zapped any momentum in Jefferson's favor.

“After those ejections, I could see (Jefferson) declining,” Karsen said. “They weren’t the same.”

RELATED: Football provides a purpose for Gaither’s Sammie Lee

With a game plan that included play-fakes and trick plays with various running backs, Bartalo finished the night with four touchdown passes, completing 10 of 17 passes for 208 yards.

"I think we have an unbelievable quarterback and he showed that he's pretty special," Karsen said.

Josh Miller, Drelin Pittman and Jeff Duclos caught touchdowns for the Cowboys. Simmons, prior to his ejection, completed a 70-yard touchdown pass for Jefferson to Jamari Gassett and short touchdown pass to Tyrone Howard as time expired in the first half.

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