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And then there was one

Zephyrhills keeps fighting in a season-ending loss to Jesuit.

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 24, 2002

ZEPHYRHILLS -- Jesuit's Aaron Fryer had dominated, rushing for 252 yards and three touchdowns, but the first thing he had to do was talk about his opponents.

"They play us hard every year," the Tigers tailback said after his team's 41-14 victory ended the Bulldogs' season. "They always fight back, and even when we were ahead, we knew they weren't going to give up."

The final margin was a touchdown more lopsided than last year's playoff loss to Jesuit in the first round.

But the Bulldogs' 14 points last year were an afterthought, something to foil a shutout in the fourth quarter.

This year, Zephyrhills got off the mat and scored 14 first-half points against a team allowing less than eight a game.

"It was a fun ride, but it's got to end somewhere," said Bulldogs coach Tom Fisher, who guided his team to the region semifinals for the second time in its 59-year history.

"I'm proud of our kids for the way they fought back."

Down 17-0 in the first quarter, Zephyrhills punted from its own 28, bearing down on punt returner Shane Robinson. He fumbled and Paul Maxwell recovered, and Zephyrhills capitalized.

Fullback Justin Cobb ran for 10 yards, then caught an 8-yard pass from James Adamo, setting up a 7-yard touchdown pass from Adamo to Maxwell.

Jesuit would add two passing touchdowns for a 31-7 lead, but Zephyrhills got the ball on its 33-yard line with 1:33 left in the half and marched down the field against the Tigers' vaunted defense.

On third-and-7 with 1:18 left, Sidney Williams ran 18 yards down the left side. On third-and-6 with 48 seconds left, Adamo hit Cobb for a 15-yard gain to the 27. After two incompletions, Adamo found a diving Keith Ostermann in the right corner of the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown.

The Bulldogs wouldn't manage a single first down in the second half as Jesuit advanced to its fourth region final in five years, but the Tigers left Bulldog Stadium with a respect for their playoff opponents.

"Coming here has always been a tough place to play," Jesuit coach Dominick Ciao said. "We knew it was going to be tough and physical, and we were fortunate to get out on them early."

Several seniors had memorable plays in their final game.

Adamo threw for two touchdowns, and Maxwell recovered the muffed punt and also caught Adamo's first touchdown pass.

Offensive linemen Shane Hand, Bubba Tindale and Jamen Monbarren played together one last time, and fullback Justin Cobb gained four first downs in the first half.

Kyle Briscoe, who missed six games with a knee injury, returned for two extra points and punter John McKnight booted a 65-yard punt, one week after booming a 68-yarder against Bartow.

The scoreboard was disappointing, but the setting was not.

The Bulldogs advanced as far as only one other team in school history had managed, and in a span of eight days, they tripled the number of home playoff games totaled in 58 previous seasons.

"I think we had a great year, probably one of the best in Zephyrhills history," Adamo said. "I thought we'd go out tough, expected it from a team that's played tough all year."

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