LAKELAND — Facing a Lakeland team that had won every game this year by an average margin of 41 points, Tampa Bay Tech came closer than any other team to pulling off the upset Friday and, for that, Titans coach Jayson Roberts found solace in his players’ efforts.
“I know, going into this week, no one gave us a shot of being within three touchdowns of these guys,” Roberts said. “And these guys took it as a personal challenge and I’m so proud of the effort that came out.”
Reveling in its underdog status and capitalizing on costly Lakeland penalties, Tampa Bay Tech used a turnover and a recovered onside kick to take a 23-21 lead early in the third quarter. But Lakeland (12-0), led by star rusher Demarkcus Bowman, rallied to hold off the Titans (8-4) for a 37-30 victory in a Class 7A, Region 2 semifinal.
“We were in the lead at one point but we didn’t hang on,” Roberts said. “I couldn’t put in words how proud how I am of this team.”
Early on, Lakeland’s hopes were kept alive by Bowman. The Dreadnaughts committed 10 first-half penalties for 103 yards, but Bowman’s three first-half touchdowns kept them ahead 21-13 at halftime. When Tech offensive lineman Michael Moment opened the third quarter with a pick-six, the Titans electrified their fan contingent by recovering the onside kick.
Facing fourth and goal at Lakeland’s 6-yard and trailing 21-20, Roberts decided to bring in Andrew Alhomsi for a 25-yard field-goal attempt that gave his team the lead, albeit briefly.
“I’m kinda kicking myself not going for the touchdown, but but hindsight’s always 20-20,” Roberts said.
On the following drive, Bowman added his fourth touchdown of the game to re-take Lakeland’s lead. He finished the game with 176 rushing yards and has 23 touchdowns this season.
With 1:02 left, the Titans came within seven points on Daunte Harris’ touchdown catch. Though it was the most points scored by a Lakeland opponent this season, the Titans were out of timeouts and out of time.
“This was a playoff game so we put everything on the line,” Osmanis Aguilera said, who finished with 138 rushing yards and one touchdown. “We wanted to win, it was neck and neck. It was physical, they’re the defending state champs and we almost hung in there.”
All games 7:30 p.m. next Friday.
Class 2A, Region 3
• No. 4 Admiral Farragut at No. 3 Seffner Christian
Class 3A, Region 3
• No. 5 Clearwater Central Catholic at No. 2 Fort Myers Bishop Verot
Class 4A, Region 3
• No. 3 Tampa Catholic at No. 1 Lakewood
Class 5A, Region 3
• No. 4 Jesuit at No. 2 Lake Wales
Class 6A, Region 2
• No. 3 Lake Minneola at No. 1 Gaither
Class 7A, Region 2
• No. 2 Lakeland at No. 1 Armwood
Class 8A, Region 2
• No. 4 Steinbrenner at No. 3 Kissimmee Osceola