It’s not Halloween just yet, but it was a thriller night on Friday at Tampa Bay Tech when Nick Felice and the Plant City Raiders snagged a 43-42 win over the Titans as time expired.
The game had everything football fans could want: five lead changes, huge defensive stops, touchdowns aplenty and a high-pressure finish. And with the win, the Raiders (2-2) snapped a two-game losing streak to get to .500 on the season and pick up some momentum heading into the second half of the regular season.
Tech (2-3) opened up the scoring shortly after taking advantage of a bobbled handoff and recovering a fumble at its own 41-yard line. A pair of penalties against the Raiders helped the Titans get to the Plant City 26-yard line, and quarterback David Wright then hit Jamari Gassett for the game’s first touchdown with 6:01 left in the first quarter. The Titans boosted their lead to 14-0 with 7:08 left in the first half when Gassett recovered a fumble from around the Plant City 30-yard line and took it to the house. But the Raiders answered in less than a minute with a quick drive that ended with wideout Reagan Ealy taking a catch 25 yards for the score, and Plant City quickly got two more points after the defense forced TBT to punt and the snap rolled through the punter’s legs, only to be downed in the end zone for a safety.
Plant City took its first lead of the game on the ensuing drive, which started at midfield. Ealy, Mario Williams and Aramoni Rhone each caught passes to get the Raiders in Tech’s red zone and Rhone ended the drive with an athletic catch in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown. That gave the Raiders a 16-14 lead with 2:10 left in the half, but a huge kickoff return deep into PCHS territory led to Wright leading the Titans to the goal line and scoring the first of his three rushing touchdowns with 18 seconds left. The two-point conversion worked and Tech kept the Raiders from crossing midfield to go into halftime with a 22-16 lead.
The Raiders got the ball to start the second half but the opening drive was not ideal for them — Gassett made his mark on the scoreboard yet again with an interception return for a touchdown with 9:45 left in the third quarter. Plant City’s next drive also ended with an interception that resulted from a dropped pass. But on the very next play, Tech gave the ball right back to Plant City’s Jermarian Jackson in exactly the same way. Reggie Bush broke off two big runs to get the Raiders to Tech’s 10-yard line and Williams caught a pass from Felice in the end zone to cut Tech’s lead down to 29-23.
Plant City regained the lead with 10:29 left in the fourth quarter on another touchdown pass from Felice to Ealy, and the Raiders then pinned the Titans down to their own one-yard line on the kickoff. But TBT chipped away at the Raiders defense in three and a half minutes and Wright scored his second rushing touchdown on a 16-yard keeper. Tech’s initial two-point attempt would have worked if not for an offensive holding penalty, and the second attempt sailed over the intended receiver’s hands to fall incomplete.
Four minutes later, after the Raiders came just short of converting on a fourth-down pass attempt and a 15-yard facemark penalty gave the Titans another big break, Wright scored Tech’s final points of the game on another 16-yard keeper. After the point-after kick cruised between the uprights, the home team held a 42-30 lead with just three minutes left in the game.
It was a high-pressure situation for Plant City, but the Raiders rose to the occasion. In 48 seconds, Felice led the Raiders downfield from their own 37 and threw an eight-yard pass to Rhone for the wideout’s second touchdown of the night, which cut the TBT lead to 42-37. Though the Titans caught Plant City’s onside kick attempt and forced the Raiders to burn all three of their timeouts on the next drive, Tech opted for a drop kick on fourth down that gave the Raiders a touchback with 1:34 left to make something happen.
Felice picked up a first down on a 15-yard run and then completed three consecutive passes to put Plant City in Tech’s red zone. Plant City responded to an offensive holding penalty with two completed passes on three attempts, which got the Raiders to the TBT five-yard line with just 11 seconds left. After a pass into the end zone fell incomplete with six seconds to go, Felice tucked it and ran on the game’s final play and crossed the plane just as time expired to give Plant City the 43-42 win.