TAMPA — Something had to give on Friday. No. 1 seed Gaither had not won a playoff game in eight years, a 17-14 victory over Tampa Bay Tech. The postseason playoff win drought for eighth-ranked Boca Ciega extended even farther, a 39-21 triumph in 2004 vs. Clearwater.
Gaither (10-1) made up for lost time with a 47-27 victory over Boca Ciega (6-5) in a Class 6A, Region 2 quarterfinal. It is believed to be the first time in school history that the Cowboys have reached double digits in wins for a season.
It was a flag-filled game with the teams combining for 322 yards in penalties. Gaither was flagged 23 times for 217 yards, while Boca Ciega had 105 yards on 14 penalties.
Gaither never trailed after taking a 20-0 halftime lead. The Pirates failed to get closer than two scores after that.
“(Boca Ciega) is a good team,” Gaither coach Kirk Karsen said. “We played like it was our first playoff game, and I thought that was an advantage we had over them, because we’ve had some playoff experience since I’ve been here and they didn’t.
"If we don’t clean (the penalties) up, our (playoff) ticket could be punched to be home pretty soon."
Gaither will host No. 5 Clearwater next week in a semifinal game.
Gaither quarterback Tony Bartalo had an up-and-down outing. He accounted for four touchdowns (two passing and two running), while completing 18-of-29 passes for 201 yards. But he also had four turnovers (three interceptions and a lost fumble).
The Cowboys also lost starting running back/linebacker Chance Coleman in the first half with an undisclosed injury.
“We don’t know (his status),” Karsen said. “We think he’s going to be okay for next week, but we’ll see. He’s supposed to have an MRI.”
Running back Chris Phillips led Boca Ciega with 150 yards on 16 carries with two scores (96 and 12 yards).
“I really thought we had a shot (to win),” Boca Ciega coach Max Smith said. “We just got off to a slow start. I’m proud of our team."
The Gaither defense was instrumental in the first half as the Cowboys grabbed a 20-0 lead. On the game’s first play from scrimmage, Kobe McCloud recovered a Taffrey Peterman fumble at the Boca Ciega 14 — setting up a Bartalo 1-yard TD run with 9:31 remaining in the opening quarter.
Gaither doubled its lead later in the period on a Bartalo to Josh Smith 13-yard scoring strike to complete a four-play, 36-yard march. The Cowboys found the scoreboard again in the second period as Jean Duclos intercepted Peterman and returned it 27 yards for the score.
Gaither held a 179-62 edge in offensive yardage in the first two quarters, but was slowed by 14 penalties totaling 125 yards. One of those flags nullified a 55-yard interception return for a TD by Jordan Oladokun, who picked off another Peterman pass later in the half.
Place-kicker Hunter Mintzer also missed a pair of field-goal attempts from 30 and 35 yards.
Boca Ciega stopped two other Gaither scoring threats on Bartalo turnovers: a fumble recovery by Kamau Adams-Walker, and an interception by Mikal Sanders, who picked off Bartalo twice in the game.
Region football semifinals
All games 7:30 p.m. next Friday.
Class 2A, Region 3
• No. 3 Seffner Christian at No. 2 Northside Christian
• No. 4 Admiral Farragut at No. 1 Cambridge Christian
Class 3A, Region 3
• No. 5 Clearwater Central Catholic at No. 1 Berkeley Prep
Class 4A, Region 3
• No. 4 Clewiston at No. 1 Lakewood
• No. 3 Tampa Catholic at No. 2 Delray Beach American Heritage
Class 5A, Region 3
• No. 8 Chamberlain at No. 4 Jesuit
Class 5A, Region 2
• No. 4 Nature Coast at No. 1 Orlando Jones
Class 6A, Region 2
• No. 5 Clearwater at No. 1 Gaither
• No. 3 Lake Minneola at No. 2 Largo
Class 7A, Region 3
• No. 3 Manatee at No. 2 Mitchell
Class 7A, Region 2
• No. 5 Bloomingdale at No. 1 Armwood
• No. 6 Tampa Bay Tech at No. 2 Lakeland
Class 8A, Region 2
• No. 4 Steinbrenner at No. 1 Sarasota Riverview