TAMPA — If there’s one thing Tampa Bay Tech knows well, it’s how it feels to be on the losing end of a close football game.
Last season, three of the Titans’ four losses were by three or fewer points; losing in heartbreaking fashion, it seemed, was their fatal flaw.
On Friday, the ball in its hands down by seven with just minutes to play, Hillsborough had the chance to deliver yet another gut-wrenching blow to the Titans.
Except this time, just like it had done all night, Tampa Bay Tech’s defense stood tall. With the help of a pair of sacks and a big pass breakup in the end zone, the Titans forced a Hillsborough turnover on downs with just seconds to go, sealing their 14-7 victory.
“It validates all the things we focused on in the offseason. We looked in the mirror after some of the stuff that happened last year, and said, ‘Hey, these are the things we need to address. We’ve got to address the late-game situations,’” coach Jayson Roberts said. “To see us be able to pull it out is a little notch in the belt.”
The Terriers (2-1) came into Friday’s matchup averaging more than 180 yards rushing per game. Against a sizable Tampa Bay Tech defensive line, Hillsborough only mustered 72. The Terriers’ only score came on a 77-yard pass from quarterback Caleb Pierce to brother and wide receiver Cohen Pierce in the second quarter.
“Our defensive line has been unreal this season so far. They’ve allowed us to be able to play coverage behind them, because we really have no need to blitz,” Roberts said. “We have so much pressure, and they’re so good against the run.”
Tampa Bay Tech had a quick answer to Hillsborough’s strike, using a short field gifted by Terrier penalties to set up Xavione Washington’s 3-yard quarterback keeper.
Midway through the third quarter, Tampa Bay Tech (3-0) broke open the tie game with a blocked field goal, giving the Titans yet another short field. Running back James Evans eventually cashed in on a 1-yard touchdown run to give Tampa Bay Tech the lead.
For the rest of the night, it was all defense from both teams.
In an attempt to escape the defensive battle, Evans found some success running the ball up the middle for short, clock-draining gains. When the Terriers did get the ball back for the final possession of the game, they had less than three minutes to make something happen.
Back-to-back sacks from defensive ends Antonio Camon and Keyon Clark gave the Titans all the defensive momentum they needed to thwart the Terriers’ attempted rally.
“The tackle, he was high-setting, so I came underneath him and made the sack,” said Camon, a transfer from Tampa Catholic. “We’re all dogs, that’s it. We all come to play.”