TAMPA — Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia, the winningest high school coach in Tampa Bay, has seen more than his fair share of games. He was pretty blunt after his team’s 29-15 loss to Steinbrenner.
“We set offensive football back 100 years,” he said.
Friday night’s game was certainly not one for the vault.
The Terriers (2-2) turned the ball over nine times, six on fumbles, and had 113 penalty yards. Steinbrenner (5-0) turned three of those turnovers into points. But the Warriors also had 115 penalty yards of their own, which kept the game closer than it should have been.
Hillsborough gave the ball away four times in the first half, and two of those led to points. On their second play from scrimmage, the Terriers fumbled on their own 45. The Warriors took advantage by putting together a nine-play drive that ended with Haden Carlson hitting Aidan Bitter on a 10-yard touchdown pass. The extra point failed.
That lead did not last long. Erriyon Knighton raced 87 yards on the first play of the second drive to make it 7-6. That turned out to be the biggest play — by far — of the night for the Terriers.
On their first drive of the second quarter, the Warriors scored again. This time, Deon Silas ran it in from 14 yards. The two-point try failed, so the score was 12-7.
Hillsborough struck quickly. An 80-yard kick return put the ball on the Steinbrenner 10. On fourth and goal from the 5, quarterback Jordaan Bailey ran it in to make the score 13-12.
Then another Hillsborough mistake led to points. Matt Durrance picked off a Bailey pass with just over a minute left. Four plays later, Brady Nugent kicked a 25-yard field goal for a 15-13 halftime lead.
That was the first of three interceptions for Durrance.
“I had three interceptions all of last year,” Durrance said. “We know what we have to do to win and sometimes the defense has to step up. The offense did its job and we did our job.”
Fittingly, a turnover started the second half. Hillsborough fumbled on its own 22-yard line. It only took four plays before Carlson scored from 3 yards to extend the lead to 22-13.
The only real positive in the second half for Hillsborough came after an interception. Steinbrenner got the ball at its own 9 and was forced to punt from its 5-yard line. A bad snap forced the punter to step on the end line for a safety. That put Hillsborough within a touchdown. But after that, the Terriers punted, fumbled, threw an interception and fumbled again.
After a fumble to start the fourth quarter, Steinbrenner put the game out of reach. With the ball at their own 8, the Warriors drove the length of the field, with Carlson hitting Silas on a perfectly placed 15-yard pass in the corner of the end zone. Carlson, who ended the night with 174 passing yards, converted a 28-yard pass on third and 20 to keep the drive alive.
That essentially put the game out of reach.
Steinbrenner didn’t score again, but it didn’t have to. On a last-ditch drive late in the game, Hillsborough got to the Steinbrenner 29, but the drive ended with a sixth fumble.
“We were playing rugby and they were playing football,” Garcia said. “The new season starts tomorrow. We’ll be alright. Just one of those nights.”