SEFFNER — His team hadn’t just been used to winning, Tampa Bay Tech coach Jayson Roberts said. It had been used to winning big.
Coming into Friday’s game against Armwood, all of the the Titans’ wins were by an average of five touchdowns. But against the Hawks, Tampa Bay Tech’s offense just couldn’t seem to find its footing; pass after pass fell incomplete, and leading rusher Rod Gainey Jr. was unable to break off his signature long runs.
When the Titans, trailing Armwood by five, got the ball back late in the fourth quarter, quarterback Xavione Washington knew he had to make something happen.
Just minutes after making a game-saving dive to convert on fourth down, Washington lofted a 17-yard pass to Tristan Pless, who made a leaping grab in the end zone for a touchdown.
“I was just thinking, ‘We have to score, we have to punch it in,’” Washington said. “I ain’t going to lie, I kind of threw it up on the last play, because I knew we had to get it in. That was all that was on my mind.”
That wouldn’t be it for Armwood. On their ensuing drive, quarterback Murdolph Jones completed passes of 41 and 36 yards to put the Hawks in field-goal range, but a 25-yard kick sailed wide right, and the Titans edged Arrmwood, 18-17.
Tampa Bay Tech (8-2) took a lead in the second quarter when safety Johnnie Tyson recovered an Armwood fumble, and Gainey found the end zone two plays later on a 30-yard run. The Titans extended their lead with a 27-yard field goal, but the Hawks closed the gap with just four seconds to go in the half on a touchdown pass from Murdolph Jones to wide receiver Malaqhi Jones. And in the second half, they only built on that momentum, as the Hawks continued to keep Tampa Bay Tech out of the end zone.
Armwood (5-3) scored on a field goal of its own and a 69-yard pass from Jones to wide receiver Mekhi Anderson.
“(Armwood) did an excellent job all night long of really frustrating us offensively. We weren’t able to hit some of our spots we’ve been hitting the last couple of weeks, so it forced us to go to other places,” Roberts said. “When we got down late in the fourth and we had to have points, those guys really came through for us.”
Washington didn’t have the kind of results through the air that he’s become used to, completing just 7 of 20 passes for 57 yards against a scrappy Armwood secondary. And in each of the last two games, Tampa Bay Tech, which fell to Jesuit 24-21 a week ago, relied on a last-second outcome.
As far as Roberts is concerned, it’s all just preparation for the most important part of the season.
“(These games) are going to serve us well going into the playoffs, being in those pressure situations,” Roberts said. “It wasn’t a vintage defensive performance tonight, but it was enough to get the job done.”