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Jefferson, hoping for a return trip to the state final, falls to the Blue Devils in a squeaker.
By MIKE READLING
Published November 19, 2005
WINTER HAVEN - Overmatched has been the story of well, Winter Haven's entire football history.
When the Blue Devils qualified for the playoffs two weeks ago it was only the sixth time since 1966 they had earned the right to play in the postseason. Their combined record the past three seasons? Try 9-21. That's 3-7, times three.
Friday, Winter Haven once again found itself playing the role of underdog. A team that had never been to the region finals was set to play Jefferson, vying for its sixth region final appearance since 1999.
Given all that, the Blue Devils were not the team that was supposed to be celebrating the 17-13 victory in a crush of players and fans at midfield. The team that played in the state finals last year was forced to watch as its opponent celebrated a school record for wins in a season. The record book now reads "nine."
While Jefferson's seniors lined up on their 40-yard line and bid a tearful goodbye to the team's underclassmen, Winter Haven mugged for TV cameras and made plans for Armwood in next week's region final game.
"We're new at this," Tate said.
As new as they may be, the Blue Devils (9-3) stuck to the script. They were outgained 390-164. They were overmatched by a bigger Jefferson team. The two things they did do better than Jefferson - earn field position and play timely defense - were the differences in the game.
Winter Haven's average starting position was its own 44-yard line. Meanwhile the Devils stuck Jefferson to starting at the Dragons' 24.
"That's something we've done all year. Field position has been big for us," Tate said. "Sometimes they accuse us of not being very fancy but Chris Smith is a heck of a kicker."
Despite all the flashy plays and gaudy stats, Jefferson found itself trailing by four with 6:42 remaining. The Dragons (8-4) drove to the Blue Devils' 4-yard line, setting up a first-and-goal with just under two minutes remaining.
Two Fred Amiker runs and a Steven Garcia sack left the Dragons with fourth-and-goal from the Winter Haven 10. The last play of their season was an incomplete pass from Garcia to Tertavian Ingram in the end zone when the ball was batted down by Antonio Goodman.
"It was a play that we hadn't run for a couple weeks and didn't think they'd be expecting it," Jefferson coach Mike Simmonds said. "But their guy was ready for it and made a great play."