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Seffner Christian has a comeback for the ages

The Crusaders overcome a 34-7 third-quarter deficit to beat Cambridge Christian.
Seffner Christian, which won its sixth straight game, avenged a 21-13 loss to Cambridge Christian from earlier this season.
Seffner Christian, which won its sixth straight game, avenged a 21-13 loss to Cambridge Christian from earlier this season. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 21, 2020

TAMPA — Five weeks ago, Seffner Christian coach Travis Puleo called a play to defeat Sarasota Cardinal Mooney. In that 14-9 victory, Puleo had senior quarterback Titan Williamson take the center snap and fire a pass to junior tight end Ryan Longman in the end zone.

For the Crusaders on Friday, it was deju vu on a much larger stage. Seffner Christian overcame a 34-7 third-quarter deficit to stun Cambridge Christian 49-47 in a Class 2A region semifinal slugfest. A 7-yard scoring strike to Longman from Williamson — his third scoring pass of the game — came with 11.1 seconds remaining.

“Biggest comeback in school history,” Puleo said.

Seffner Christian (7-4), which won its sixth straight game and plays for a region title next Friday at Northside Christian, avenged a 21-13 loss to Cambridge Christian (9-2) on Oct. 9. This turned out to be two games within a game after the Lancers rolled to a 27-7 halftime lead and a 34-7 advantage with 1:23 left in the third quarter.

There were five lead changes in the final 8:18, and the teams combined for eight turnovers, two pick-sixes and seven passing touchdowns.

After Cambridge Christian senior Noah Froelich returned a Williamson interception for a touchdown to give the Lancers a 34-7 lead, Seffner Christian roared back with four touchdowns in the ensuing 4:46 to take its first lead of the game at 35-34 on a 35-yard interception return of a pass from sophomore quarterback Chris Stephenson, who threw for four scores.

The teams swapped leads twice after that until Longman’s winning score to cap a 34-point fourth quarter by the Crusaders.

“We dialed that one (against Cardinal Mooney) and won the game on the same play,” Puleo said. “Same exact play, same guy, touchdown.”

Cambridge Christian took its final lead at 47-43 on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Stephenson to Froelich with 2:51 remaining. An 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Seffner Christian senior Herman James preceded Stephenson’s touchdown toss to Froelich.

“What we told our kids at halftime was we played as bad as we could in one half of football,” Puleo said. “But you know what, ‘We’ve got another half of football to come out and play.’

“That’s exactly what those kids did. Turnovers stopped, the mental mistakes stopped, and we started executing.”

For Cambridge Christian, it was a third consecutive loss in the region semifinals since advancing to the state semifinals in 2017.

“We got a little complacent, and we took our foot off the brake a little bit,” Cambridge Christian coach Chad Walker said. “It was one of those things. We made some mistakes, (and) Seffner made some good plays.

“We started getting a little bit lackadaisical — both offensively, defensively — and in special teams. Football is four quarters, and you have to play in all three phases. We failed to do that tonight.”