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Gibbs knocks off higher-seeded Zephyrhills in low-scoring affair

The Gladiators mount the decisive drive of the game just before halftime, then fend off the Bulldogs.
Gibbs surprises with a 12-10 quarterfinal win over the higher-seeded Zephyrhills in Class 5A, Region 3 on Friday night.
Gibbs surprises with a 12-10 quarterfinal win over the higher-seeded Zephyrhills in Class 5A, Region 3 on Friday night. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 13

ZEPHYRHILLS — The underdogs had their night Friday at Bulldog Stadium with Gibbs, seeded seventh in Class 5A, Region 3, eking out a 12-10 quarterfinal win over No. 2 Zephyrhills.

“We knocked off the No. 2 team, No. 2,” Gibbs coach Louis Murphy exclaimed to his players during a euphoric celebration in the north end zone after the game. “We’ve got four more. We win one, we get another.”

Next up for Gibbs (8-3) is a second-round game at No. 3 Sebring. Zephyrhills (9-2) had made the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons, including a region semifinal last year.

What appeared to be headed toward a high-scoring game quickly changed after just one quarter. The Gladiators scored on the opening possession of the game and the Bulldogs marched right downfield for a matching touchdown with Jaxson Rivera’s point-after kick giving the host a narrow 7-6 lead.

Murphy, a wide receiver on Florida’s national championship teams (2006, 2008) before a nine-year stint in the NFL with five teams, including the Bucs, knows first-hand how games can go back and forth.

“Don’t flinch. They’re going to battle back,” Murphy said of the advice he gave his players after those two early scoring drives.

Gibbs took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards, capping that 12-play dive with A.J. Miller’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Tra’quan Johnson in the left corner of the end zone. Zephyrhills countered with a seven-play, 88-yard drive with Jaylin Thomas bursting up the middle for a 4-yard scoring run. That play was set up by a 39-yard slant-in pass from Rivera to T.J. Jackson.

Gibbs mounted the decisive drive of the game just before halftime. Miller, who completed 8-of-10 for 91 yards, capped a nine-play, 97-yard drive with his second touchdown pass of the game.

On fourth and 8 from the Zephyrhills 15-yard line and with just 19 seconds remaining before the break, he found Alan Stokes on a crossing pattern just inside the end zone for a 12-7 lead.

Each team lost a fumble and got sacks at crucial times. With Zephyrhills trailing 12-10 after Rivera’s 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, Theotis Smith sacked Miller on fourth and 2 at the Zephyrhills 7-yard line.

Not to be outdone, after the Bulldogs crossed midfield in the waning seconds, Kevaun Jones sacked Rivera for his second of the game on the final play.

“That’s kind of crazy,” Jones said. “That’s special.”

Thomas rushed for a game-high 164 yards while Johnson gained 119.