I knew on Monday morning that, with the three-way tie for first place, there would have to be a playoff to determine a district champion.
And, what makes for more compelling drama than a series of fourth quarters? As we saw in Friday’s Durant-East Bay tilt, sometimes, all you need is one good quarter to flip a football game on its head, and that’s exactly what the Indians did.
Now, they can say that they’re the kings of Class 7A District 8. District champs for the first time since 1973, five years before Chargers head coach John Kelly was born.
Speaking of the Chargers, hats off to those guys for playing with heart on every down. They’re not the most athletic team, but no one I’ve seen in the district plays with as much emotion as those guys. They went from owning first place to missing the playoffs in just four days, but this season can’t be seen as a disappointment after it ends on Friday.
They relied heavily on Chris Perez and the ground game in the first quarter, but the Indians’ run defense smothered Crest’s backs like a fire blanket.
And, likewise, the Chargers’ defense kept East Bay in check for much of the quarter. You could say the Indians got lucky on two consecutive plays: Wideout Anton Crutcher caught a huge pass and took it near the 25-yard line, and Chris Greene broke some tackles and scored on the next play.
At that point, with 56.7 seconds left, Crest needed a miracle. They didn’t get it, though, as Austin Carswell was the victim of the first of two game-ending sacks on fourth down. Emotions ran high on the Chargers’ bench, with helmets thrown and words said and tempers flaring up, but that’s to be expected of the team with its heart on its sleeve.
The Raiders took the field before a sea of chants from the visitors’ section: “We’re Not Done Yet!” A section full of psychics, as it turns out.
The Raiders looked like they were in control of this one from the beginning, in spite of not immediately scoring, but East Bay flipped the table with just over four minutes left, when Crutcher pulled out another clutch play.
When the Raiders were in the red zone, Crutcher managed to pick off Landon Galloway with 4:10 on the clock. Having stolen all the momentum, the Indians kept on running and ate away at the clock. Then came the touchdown pass to Randen Cortez. When it was time to kick off to the Raiders, there were just 35 seconds left.
That’s when the Raiders fumbled, and the Indians got the ball back. They didn’t add to the lead, but it didn’t matter.
At this point, I figured that we were all about to witness the most heated quarter of the playoff. Plant City was upset, all right, but Crest’s players practically walked off the field with steam coming out of their ears. If everybody’s going to go hard, we’re in for a treat.
Well, they went hard. Everybody went one step forward, two steps back for much of this quarter. Lots of penalties were called against both sides. Things got heated. Welcome to the fourth quarter, with postseason hopes up for grabs.
The Raiders did get in position for a short field goal, maybe a little more than an extra point attempt, but any plans they had of taking a 3-0 lead were single-handedly foiled by Matt Chaney. During the hold, the senior appeared out of thin air and swatted the ball wide left. Turnover on downs, 2:33 on the clock.
Now, the players started jawing at each other. The Raiders’ defense wasn’t giving Crest an inch, and Sedrick King put an exclamation point on the drive by scooping up Carswell’s fumble and taking it back for a 15-yard touchdown. But the PAT was no good, so Crest got one last crack at a postseason appearance.
And they made the most out of this drive, at least until the end. Josh Engram gave the Chargers decent field position on the kick return, and the Chargers methodically worked their way down to the red zone.
When they got there, the receivers ran straight for the pylons and Carswell attempted to float them the ball. This led to three straight incompletions and a fourth-and-10 situation.
The last thing Carswell wanted to see Plant City sack leader John Broome making a beeline for him, and he didn’t react quickly enough to avoid the sack. With 18 seconds left, that sealed the deal.