TAMPA – In business-like fashion, the Lake Wales Highlanders advanced through the second round of the FHSAA Class 5A playoffs Friday night.
LWHS improved to 8-4 on the season with a 20-9 win over the Tampa Jesuit Tigers. The Highlanders will host a home game next Friday in Legion Field in the Region 3 final against Merritt Island, which beat Palm Bay 14-6.
Lake Wales held Jesuit without a touchdown while long pass plays were enough to give the Highlanders all the points they would need. The visitors ended the game on the Tigers’ 2-yardline and could easily have scored another touchdown.
The Highlanders scored on a 64-yard pass in the second quarter and added an 86-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to win the game.
Jesuit got so desperate that in the second half it put in senior quarterback Vincent Testaverde, the son of NFL veteran Vinnie Testaverde. Vincent underwent an appendectomy two weeks ago and wasn’t expected to play. But the Tigers had so much trouble scoring that he went into the game, though he wasn’t effective. Lake Wales did not play a flawless game, including 10 penalties for 60 yards. But LWHS did not have a turnover, and an interception by the Highlanders was probably the game changer.
Lake Wales showed it had confidence on its first possession when it went for 4th-and-8 but didn’t make it, giving Jesuit the ball on the Highlanders 39. But the Tigers had to settle for a 27-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
LWHS scored early in the second quarter when quarterback Railond Garrett found Dav’ion Riley open across the middle and he sprinted 64 yards for a 7-3 score.
Jesuit trimmed the margin to 7-6 late in the first half when it again got into the red zone but had to settle for a 35-yard field goal.
The Highlanders had just 27 yards rushing in the first half on 12 carries. But the strategy changed at halftime. In the second half Lake Wales went to its workhorses of Justin Henderson and Earnest Hamilton and controlled the ball and the game.
After the Tigers had kicked another field goal for a 9-7 lead, Henderson scored on a 5-yard run for a 13-9 LWHS lead. Then Garrett hooked up with Riley again across the middle and this time he went 86 yards for a touchdown and the final score of 20-9.
The big play of the game came in the third quarter when Marcus Walker picked off a Testaverde pass, setting up Henderson’s touchdown. The Tigers had been moving the ball on the ground, but the momentum shifted completely.