PINELLAS PARK — With just under two and a half minutes remaining in the game, and having just taken a three-point lead, Pinellas Park would need to rely on its defense to continue its season past Friday night's Class 7A region quarterfinal.
Palmetto started from its own 20 and mixed passes with runs to reach the Patriots 29 with 71 seconds left. Two plays later, they were at the 17. From there, a running play up the middle led to a touchdown with 28 seconds left, and Pinellas Park's season ended, 28-24.
The Patriots (9-3) led 21-7 at halftime, thanks to two Derek Bryant touchdowns and a 29-yard touchdown run by senior Jalen Ware. Bryant's second score was a 73-yarder along the right sideline, fooling the defense as it bit on some misdirection and Bryant sprinted to the strong side.
At halftime, Pinellas Park had 227 yards of total offense to Palmetto's 181.
On its second possession of the second half, Palmetto (10-3) took the ball down the field from its own 37 in 11 plays, the last being a four-yard run by QB Anthony Marino.
Pinellas Park fumbled the ball on the first play of its next drive, giving Palmetto possession inside the Patriots 40. An unsportsmanlike conduct call for punching would put the ball at the 21, and the Tigers eventually scored to tie the game on a quarterback keeper from the one.
In the fourth quarter, as the clock ticked under 10 minutes, the Patriots had the ball at their own 19. A mix of runs by Ware, fellow senior Ethan Blanchard, and sophomore Lawrance Toafili took Pinellas Park down to the Palmetto 15. Santiago Tovar then connected on a 25 yard field goal to give the Patriots a 24-21 advantage.
In his final game, Blanchard rushed eight times for 40 yards and caught two passes for 42. Ware gained 45 yards on five carries and caught one pass for nine yards.
"Everything's not always going to go your way, but you have to learn from it," said Pinellas Park coach Kenny Crawford. "It's an honor to coach these guys."