No district title, no district playoffs this year for the Fort Meade football Miners.
That was the stark reality after a 20-14 loss last Friday in Frostproof. The two district rivals both came into the game with just one league loss, and both controlled their own playoff destiny.
Now, Frostproof will head to the playoffs, having wrapped up the district runner-up spot with the win. Fort Meade will host Lakeland Christian Friday night in the season closer.
Not unexpectedly, Friday’s contest was filled with big plays, bigger hits and plenty of momentum swings. And lots of turnovers, lots and lots of miscues and bobbles and interceptions, which continually thwarted scoring threats and drives.
“Not doubt, our defense came up big. They bent a lot but they didn’t break. They kept making big play after big play in the red zone. That was huge.” Frostproof Coach Price Harris said.
Neither team fully hit their offensive rhythm Friday, something that didn’t catch Harris off guard.
“It didn’t surprise because I know this rivalry, I’ve been part of it for a few years now, you can throw out what’s happened the rest of the year, you can throw out what you think is going to happen, emotions are flying high, so it’s the team that sticks to it and grinds it out at the end that’s going to be the victor.”
Frostproof put up over 260 yards rushing on the game, needed yards after quarterback Xavier Gaines dinged his throwing hand early in the contest. Gaines ran 22 times for 81 yards. Cecil Cherry had seven carries for 71 yards and Jaylan McKinney added 71 yards on 11 runs.
The game was in doubt until McKinney broke free down the right sideline and scored from 34 yards out with just 68 seconds left to seal the deal for the Bulldogs.
And they needed it as the Miners’ Tyler King returned the kickoff to the Frostproof 14, and quarterback Jay Smith found Malik Brown on the next play to bring the Miners to within six, 20-14, with 46.3 seconds to play.
Frostproof recovered the onside kick to end any hopes of a Miner miracle finish. Fort Meade earlier this year beat Berkeley Prep on a 41-yard Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game.
The Miners scored in the first minute of the game, and the last, but Frostproof did just enough in between to take the win.
Frostproof looked like it was going to take the opening kick of the second right down the field for a lead — following a 7-7 tie at intermission — with seven straight running plays taking the ball from the Bulldog 45, following a nice kickoff return by Jarviel Hart, to the Miners five with a first down.
Frostproof then split out its quarterback Xavier Gaines, and two direct snap runs to Kaleel Gaines netted little yardage, and a third down pass by Xavier Gaines was incomplete. A field goal try from 25 yards out was then missed to end the scoring threat.
But Frostproof would take the lead shortly thereafter thanks to a Deonte Perry interception that he returned to the Miner 23. The Bulldogs needed just two plays, an eight yard run from Xavier Gaines and a 15-yard jaunt to the right pylon from Cecil Cherry to go up 14-7, after the extra point by Lamar Babb, with just over four minutes to go in the third quarter.
Fort Meade looked like it might have an immediate answer, driving from its own 31 to a fourth-and goal from the four on its ensuing possession, but Hart stepped in front of the Jay Smith pass to break it up and give Frostproof the ball back on downs.
The Fort Meade defense got the ball back quickly, however, and after a Frostproof punt, the Miners had it at the Frostproof 44. They drove to the Bulldog 10, but had incomplete passes on both third and fourth down to end that threat.
A Lamar Bobb interception ended another Fort Meade drive into Frostproof territory with less than four minutes to play in the game.
The two teams started the slugfest early, with each getting a touchdown before the game was four minutes old.
In fact, Fort Meade scored on the second play of the game when Fulse scampered around left end for the score.
Frostproof countered with a 10-play, 80 yard drive that took just 2:55 off the clock. Cherry started the drive with runs of 15 and 18 yards, and Xavier Gaines added runs of 15 and nine yards before sneaking it over from the one yardline to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:05 still to go in the first quarter.
And while there would still be big plays, there were no points for a while. Fort Meade turned the ball over twice in Frostproof territory, once on a fumble and once on an acrobatic interception by Hart, a transfer into the Bulldogs program from Avon Park in the off season.
In fact, the rest of the first half was marred by turnovers, and an injury to Fort Meade’s star receiver Tobias Culpepper, who accounted for one of the turnovers with an interception. Culpepper hit his head hard on the turf when he came down with the ball, but did walk to the sideline under his own power after a couple of minutes. He returned to play in the second half.
The half got a little chippy a few minutes before intermission when Frostproof was flagged for a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct call after a short play went out of bounds in front of the Fort Meade bench.
There was a lot of milling around, some pushing and shoving, and Frostproof receiver Kijana Gaines was ejected following the incident which did not escalate beyond that.
Price said video of the play indicated Gaines’ hit came before the whistle to end the play, not after the play was over, and as such, he will not be suspended at all.
“It was not a dirty hit,” Harris noted.
Perry will serve a one game suspension for having two unsportsmanlike conduct calls against him in the same game. Harris said he misunderstood the referee and thought that the first flag had been called against a different Bulldog, and that Perry wouldn’t have been in the game to risk a second flag had he known the first infraction was against him.
In all, the teams combined for five turnovers in the first half.