LAND O’LAKES — Befitting of an all-star game, Friday night’s high school football thriller for Pasco seniors at Sunlake High featured six lead changes, three pivotal turnovers, a pair of touchdowns on special teams and three scoring passes.
In the end, the West had two interceptions to the East’s one and hung on for a 23-21 win in the closest result of the five-game series organized by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The East, which had won two straight games, still leads the all-time series 3-2. That includes a 17-14 win in 2017, which had been the tightest game before Friday.
“The defense was outstanding,” said Fivay’s Matt Durchik, who coached the West. “The best thing was the consistency at our practices and the buy-in from the squad.”
With the West leading 9-7 at halftime, the teams traded a pair of touchdowns each in an explosive third quarter. Trailing by just two points, the East went ahead 14-9 on an 82-yard punt return by Wiregrass Ranch’s Keith Walker and an extra-point from Wesley Chapel kicker Fletcher Martin.
Not to be outdone on special teams, Mitchell’s Rob Graham ran back the ensuing kickoff 91 yards and Fivay’s Nicholas Iovino followed up with a PAT kick to give the lead back to the West at 16-14. Graham also had the West’s lone touchdown in the first half, a 53-yard pass from Fivay quarterback Bryan Hair.
Later in the third, the East took a lead for the third time in the game. Land O’Lakes quarterback Ethan Forrester connected with Wiregrass Ranch’s Jonavon Tillis on a 35-yard touchdown pass and Martin made the kick for a 21-16 lead.
The West countered one last time with River Ridge’s Anthony Roussos bursting through the middle for a 37-yard scoring run and Iovino made his kick to account for the final margin as neither team scored in the final quarter.
Iovino kicked a 31-yard field goal on the West’s opening possession before the East got a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter. Forrester hit Wesley Chapel’s Jelani Vassell on a slant-in for a 32-yard touchdown.
The West got the lead back on Graham’s touchdown catch before halftime.