LAKELAND — Hillsborough's defense came up with a late goal-line stand and Tyler Thomas had two touchdown runs to lift the Terriers to a 14-9 win against Lake Gibson in a Class 6A Region 3 quarterfinal Friday.
Lake Gibson (6-4) had first down at the Hillsborough 11 with less than two minutes remaining. The Braves opted to run with Travell Jones three times, setting up fourth down at the Terriers 7. But Hillsborough (8-3) held strong and deflected the pass at the goal line with seven second left.
"Holy smokes," Terriers coach Earl Garcia said. "We had a lot of opportunities to break the game open but something would happen. I'm proud of our kids, and they wanted this one."
Hillsborough will travel to Armwood next Friday in the region semifinal. Armwood beat Hillsborough 28-6 in their meeting earlier this season.
After a scoreless first quarter, Hillsborough was able to get its running game going behind Thomas, Dontae Hopkins and Daquion McGee. Hopkins had a pair of 12-yard runs to get the Terriers around midfield, and five plays later Thomas scored on a 19-yard zone keeper to give Hillsborough a 7-0 lead.
Lake Gibson answered with a field goal before halftime, but Hillsborough answered with a big special teams play in the third quarter. A blocked punt set the Terriers up at the Lake Gibson 11, and Thomas scored from 6 yards out to make the score 14-3.
"This game meant a lot to us," Garcia said. "It's nice to get out of the first round after a couple of years, and hey, we get Armwood as a reward."
The Braves pulled within 14-9 late in the third quarter. A drive aided by two Hillsborough personal foul calls ended when Lavarrion Nereus scored from 4 yards out.
Hillsborough had another possession inside the Braves 10, but a personal foul on a blindside block pushed the Terriers so far back that they ended up punting.
Both teams had two turnovers. Hillsborough avoided an early deficit when it forced Jones to fumble at the Terriers 5 on the Braves' first possession of the game.
"I thought the turnovers would be big, and that was a major turning point," Garcia said. "In the playoffs, especially on the road, you have to make plays and force turnovers."