Plant City and Bloomingdale wasted no time making sure their Friday night matchup was a Game of the Year contender.
The Raiders and Bulls had little trouble finding the end zone all night, but in the end it was Bloomingdale that came out on the winning side of a 37-34 game with six lead changes (five in the first half alone).
Bloomingdale needed less than two minutes to get on the scoreboard on the game’s opening drive. Maurice Frost Jr. caught a pass from Lance Alderson that put the Bulls on the PCHS 10-yard line and running back Dominic Gonnella promptly rushed for a touchdown. Plant City took over at their own 25-yard line on the next drive and, after Makenzie Kennedy took a sack on second down, he found Mario Williams open in the middle of the field for a play that Williams turned into a 78-yard touchdown. The Raiders kept that momentum alive by forcing Bloomingdale to punt on its next drive, and that ended with Jeren Bendorf blocking and recovering it at Bloomingdale’s 15-yard line.
Though they started the next drive with great field position, the Raiders had to settle for a field goal that Chris Rodriguez nailed from 27 yards out to go ahead, 10-7. Bloomingdale drove all the way to Plant City’s own 15-yard line on their next possession, but the PCHS defense picked up its play and forced a turnover on downs.
The Bulls were also the first to score in the second quarter. On a drive that featured a successful fourth-down conversion, Bloomingdale drove to the PCHS four-yard line with help from a facemask penalty and Gonnella picked up another rushing touchdown. After an encroachment penalty on Plant City during the PAT attempt, Bloomingdale decided to go for two but was unsuccessful.
Williams worked his magic once again on the next drive, catching another pass in the middle of the field and this time dashing 64 yards for a touchdown. The score gave Plant City a 17-13 lead it would soon relinquish, as the Bulls only needed three plays to score on a 34-yard pass from Alderson to Frost Jr. with 3:56 to go in the half. Plant City’s next drive ate up almost all of the remaining time in the half and ended with 14 seconds left on a Kennedy keeper from th goal line to give PCHS a 24-20 lead. Bloomingdale started at its own 37-yard line and Alderson immediately took a deep shot, but Reagan Ealy came up with an interception.
Plant City got the ball back to start the second half and quickly faced fourth down, but the Raiders got tricky with a fake punt play that set up Dawson Traffanstedt for a clear lane to a first down. Energized, the Raiders leaned heavily on Zamir’ Knighten to get from Bloomingdale’s 38-yard line to the end zone. Though Knighten saw a long run ruled down at the Bloomingdale goal line in an instance the PCHS fans were not thrilled about, he just needed one play to give the Raiders a 31-20 lead, their largest of the night.
Bloomingdale looked like it was about to face a third and long situation on its next drive, but Dinero McClendon somehow broke several tackles when it looked like he’d been swallowed up and ran from Bloomingdale’s 29-yard line to Plant City’s seven-yard line. Ollie Manhertz caught a touchdown pass after a handful of Alderson scrambles resulted in a loss of two yards, and Gonnella took a pitch past the goal line for a successful two-point conversion.
Plant City would hang on to its 31-28 lead through much of the fourth quarter. They even expanded on it when Rodriguez hit a 25-yard field goal with 9:49 left in the game, a play made possible when Ealy flipped over a would-be tackler after a catch and ran 38 yards. The Bulls’ next drive started at their own 36-yard line and got all the way to Plant City’s six-yard line with just over five minutes left to play. Alderson faked a handoff and kept the ball himself for a six-yard rushing touchdown that tied the game at 34-34.
Just when things weren’t looking so good for the Raiders, they caught a small break: Bloomingdale tried for a PAT but the ball was fumbled, recovered and fluttered onto the ground in a desperation pass attempt. Plant City had one more chance to go ahead, needing to eat about five minutes of game time and at least hit a field goal.
The Bulls had other ideas, though, and forced a turnover on downs at their own 44-yard line. The offense got aggressive on their next drive in an attempt to put the game on ice by way of touchdown, and a defensive pass interference call against Plant City put Bloomingdale inside the PCHS 30-yard line. But Ealy prevented a touchdown with an athletic breakup in a one-on-one matchup and an illegal man downfield penalty on the Bulls’ next play brought them back several yards. An illegal block in the back killed the Bulls’ last play of regulation and forced overtime.
Bloomingdale got the ball first and Plant City’s defense neither bent nor broke. The Raiders brought the pressure on Alderson and forced a field goal. Plant City’s first two plays — a pass to Knighten in the flat and a Kennedy keeper — resulted in losses, but a late hit on Kennedy moved the ball up to Bloomingdale’s seven-yard line. Williams ran the ball for a short gain and set up Rodriguez for a chip shot. Unfortunately for the visiting Raiders, the kick was blocked and the game came to a close.
In other area action, Durant picked up a 30-22 win at Kathleen and Strawberry Crest took a 59-0 loss at Lakeland.