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Hillsborough pulls out ‘meat grinder’ of a win over Pinellas Park

The Terriers play keep away late, draining the clock and scoring the decisive touchdown.
Hillsborough finds the edge late in a come-from-behind 33-27 victory over Pinellas Park in  Class 6A, Region 3.
Hillsborough finds the edge late in a come-from-behind 33-27 victory over Pinellas Park in Class 6A, Region 3. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 13

PINELLAS PARK — Through the first 28 minutes of Friday’s Class 6A, Region 3 quarterfinal, Pinellas Park made Hillsborough pay dearly for mistakes and built up a game-best nine-point advantage as a result.

But the senior-laden Terriers, steeled by a grueling regular-season schedule, played error-free football when it counted. Jumping on a costly Patriot miscue, Hillsborough slowly wore down Pinellas Park with a successful 17-play, eight-minute fourth-quarter drive to emerge with a bruising, come-from-behind 33-27 victory.

“This was the best week of practice we’ve had in the last five years and we needed every minute of it to win this game,” veteran Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said. “It was a well-fought game played by two very good teams. It was high school football the way it was supposed to be played.”

Boxing metaphors abounded in the opening half.

The No. 7-seeded Terriers (9-2) landed opening-round haymakers like Joseph Sipp Jr.’s 38-yard dash to the end zone and a perfect 71-yard touchdown connection between junior Shaun Joshi (186 passing yards, two TDs) and athlete Jordaan Bailey (130 yards of offense, two touchdowns).

Pinellas Park (9-2) responded with defensive takeaways (fumble recovery by Jerek Fields, interception by David Smoaks) and body blows inflicted by running backs Juice Williams (74 yards, two TDs) and Eric Triplett (6-yard TD run in the final minute of the first half).

Momentum looked to be firmly in Pinellas Park’s hands when punter Jordan Jimenez gambled and won with a 19-yard fourth-down run that was cashed in on a 3-yard sweep by sophomore Tyler Birchard for a 27-18 advantage 3½ minutes into the third quarter.

That is, until Hillsborough found itself.

Behind Keshawn Davila and Laterrian Hicks, the Terriers held the Patriots without a first down on three straight drives. That allowed Joshi, a backup to start the season, to deliver a 34-yard strike to tight end Justin Anderson to cut the gap to two.

And when a roughing the punter penalty gave Hillsborough new life early in the fourth quarter, that opportunity wasn’t going to be wasted.

“We needed some impetus, we needed a spark,” Garcia said. “The roughing penalty was a big deal and then we honestly felt we were in a little better condition than they were. If we could just grind them, it would pay off.”

A dozen plays and almost eight minutes later, the Terriers were on the doorstep and Bailey had the ball.

Carefully milking the clock to prevent a Patriots response, Bailey capped the march by sweeping cleanly around left end on fourth down from the 1-yard line for the game’s sixth and last lead change with 3:44 left to play.

“I can trust Coach Garcia and he can trust me,” Bailey said. “It was a very exciting moment to have the ball put in my hands to win the game. I love them for that.”

Pinellas Park rode catches by Eric Jackson and Triplett to midfield but Davila’s sack caused a fumble recovered by Jordan Haywood with 30 seconds left.

“This was a meat grinder,” Patriots coach Kenny Crawford said. “Two of the best teams in the bracket here on the field, there was some real old-school, hard-hitting football going on. I take my hat off to every kid that played tonight.”