ORLANDO -- One by one, Cypress Bay coach Mark Guandolo walked up to each of his players as they were sprawled on the Citrus Bowl field Saturday night.
He tried consoling them. He then tried to pick them up off the ground.
But nothing could shake the feeling of heartbreak or the despondent attitude of a team that felt like a state championship was ripped away in a 53-50 loss to Apopka in the Class 8A state final — which was one of the highest-scoring games in finals history.
“This was a hell of a game, something you want to be involved with,” said Guandolo, who became the first coach in state history to coach his third different team in the state finals. “Our kids, I’m just so proud of them. We kept fighting. That’s what we train for to finish the games and play hard in the fourth quarter. You hate to lose one like this.”
Two controversial roughing the passer penalties, plus a pass interference non-call that stirred up more feelings of injustice from Cypress Bay, nullified key defensive stops and ultimately sealed the outcome in a back-and-forth game in which both teams combined for 103 points — third-highest in state final history.
Not long after his spectacular one-handed touchdown catch to put the Lightning ahead 50-46, Cypress Bay receiver/defensive back Alex Montgomery felt he sealed the game when he intercepted Apopka quarterback Zack Darlington with 3:31 remaining in the fourth.
The play, however, was nullified when the officials called Cypress Bay for roughing the passer when Griffin Jossfolk put his hands on Darlington after the throw.
“I was just trying to get an explanation,” Guandolo said. “They called a late hit on the quarterback. It was during the play. They just threw it late, flag come out late.”
It was the second such penalty that nullified a key defensive stop by the Lightning’s defense.
Apopka drove down and scored the winning touchdown with 1:29 left when Chandler Cox scored from 2 yards out.
Cypress Bay nearly came back in spite of it on the ensuing drive.
The Lightning reached the Apopka 13-yard line when another play stirred up controversy. Cypress Bay quarterback Jaranta Lewis rolled to his right and flung the ball into the end zone. Although there was contact between Lightning running back Matt Dayes and Apopka defender J.J. Simmons, no call was made and Simmons deflected the ball enough to allow Rakeem Smith to intercept the pass and seal the outcome.
“I don’t have any explanations,” Guandolo said. “It’s disappointing. The official said they were both going for the ball. They came up with a heck of an interception.”
The officiating crew of George Malacos, Paul Chaplin Jr., Pat Brandhuber, Edgar Prado, James Price, Pedro Rodriguez and Dan Beaudry from Hernando County in Brooksville near Tampa called a combined 27 penalties for 234 yards. They called 14 for 123 yards on Apopka and 13 for 111 yards on Cypress Bay.
“I have no words,” Montgomery said. “We had the game sealed with the interception. They took it away. They called the B.S. call. It is what it is. When I saw the flag on the big screen [behind the end zone] down there, I said, I hope it’s not on us. But like always, it was.”
Montgomery caught nine passes for 199 yards — breaking the state finals record in that category — and caught three touchdown passes. He also made another one-handed touchdown catch on a 31-yard connection early in the second quarter.