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Terriers get their wish

By SCOTT PURKS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 3, 2001


TAMPA -- Hillsborough wanted to grind it out, chew up the clock, keep Jefferson's offense on the sideline. It was the game plan the Terriers always use, except this time there was a dramatic twist.

They used the wishbone.

They used it despite only having a week to perfect it, a week that followed eight years of using a two-back set.

The final tally was 252 Terrier rushing yards, and a 23-14 victory that gave Hillsborough a wild-card spot in the Class 5A state playoffs.

Hillsborough (8-2) slipped in when Haines City lost 34-19 to Lake Wales, dropping the Hornets to 7-3 and out of the 5A playoff hunt.

Jefferson, meanwhile, is 8-1 and had already sealed a playoff spot with its district championship.

The Dragons, who had given up an average of just 163 yards a game, said they were not surprised by Hillsborough's attack, but they simply couldn't stop it.

"I think the Terriers had the ball for almost the entire first half," Jefferson coach Mike Simmonds said. "They did a great job grinding it out."

Garcia said he got the idea for the wishbone while running early last Sunday morning.

"I came in on Monday and told my offensive line that we were putting our fate on their shoulders," Garcia said. "I said we were going to run it and stick to it for the whole game, in every situation, no matter what happened."

Then, during the game, Garcia took the sentiment to an extreme.

Leading 13-0 with 3 minutes remaining in the first half, Hillsborough faced a fourth-and-1 on its own 10-yard line.

That's when Garcia -- "For the first time in my 28 years of coaching," -- went for it that deep in his own territory.

"My assistants were all saying punt, punt!," Garcia said. "I told them, "No, we're going for it. If we can't make a yard right now, when we need it most, then we don't deserve the playoffs.'

"I just felt we had to keep Jefferson off the field."

The Terriers ran a quarterback sneak and made it. A few minutes later, after its only long pass (a 55-yarder), Hillsborough made a 22-yard field goal and went into the half with a 16-0 lead and a huge advantage in offensive stats (168 yards rushing to Jefferson's nine).

Simmonds thought the key play for his team came just four plays before Hillsborough's fourth-down gamble at the 10.

That's when Jefferson fumbled at Hillsborough's 1-foot line.

"Hey, if we score there, then it's a totally different ballgame," Simmonds said.

It's also a completely different ballgame if a ball doesn't slide off Jefferson's Andre Caldwell's fingertips early in the second quarter. If Caldwell catches the ball, Jefferson has a 97-yard touchdown.

"But then," Simmonds said, "there were several little things like that, that would have changed the complexion of the game."

In the second half, Jefferson stepped up its potent offense (the Dragons were averaging 432 yards a game), but it was too little too late.

"The bottom line is that the Big Red ain't dead yet," Garcia crowed. "We're alive to play another day."

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