ORLANDO -- They came into together with one goal in mind — lead Cypress Bay to its first state championship.
Alex Montgomery, Matt Dayes and Jaranta Lewis did all they could Saturday night to make it happen. But the Lightning’s big three came up just short.
Apopka took advantage of some fortunate penalty calls and then broke Cypress Bay’s hearts for good when Rakeem Smith made a sliding interception in the end zone — on a Lewis pass intended for Dayes — with 26 seconds left.
“He caught it. There was no cheating. I can’t complain about that. [Smith] actually got down and caught the ball. It was on replay,” said Montgomery, who with 5:27 to play put Cypress Bay ahead 50-46 with a leaping one-handed catch over two defenders in the end zone.
“But it should have never got to that point … it’s over now.”
If not for a questionable late hit penalty on Cypress Bay’s Griffin Jossfolk on what led to Apopka’s final scoring drive of the night, Montgomery, Dayes and Lewis would have been the clear-cut heroes for the Lightning.
Lewis threw for 244 yards on 12-of-19 passing including three touchdowns. Dayes ran 22 times for 170 yards and four scores. And Montgomery, playing on both offense and defense, had a career-high nine receptions for a state-record 199 yards and three scores. Two of those TD catches were one handed.
Montgomery had eight tackles and would have also had an interception, but that was wiped clean by the flag on Jossfolk, who lightly tapped Apopka quarterback Zack Darlington as he was falling out of bounds.
Even after that, though, and Apopka took the lead, Lewis lead Cypress Bay right back down the field.
After getting the ball at the 20 with 1:29 to play, Lewis hit Montgomery for 12 yards and then found Dayes for a 31-yard gain on second-and-11. On the next play, he hit Montgomery down the middle of the field for 25 yards down to the Apopka 13.
Moments later, after an Apopka timeout, Lewis hit tight end Blake Worthington between the numbers in the end zone. But Worthington, who was crying his eyes out after the game, couldn’t haul it in. On second down, Lewis was pressured and threw the ball out of bounds. On third down, he thought he had Dayes open, only to see the pass get batted in the air and picked off by Smith.
“We played our hardest. Our defense played their hardest. We just came up a little short,” Dayes said. “We tried to bring it, tried to carry the team with the help of our offensive line. But we couldn’t do it all ourselves.”
The three seniors combined to lead Cypress Bay to a 31-10 overall record over the past three seasons — the best run in school history.
But it meant little Saturday night.
“Those guys will always be my brothers,” Montgomery said. “But like I said it’s over. This game don’t mean [anything] to me because we didn’t win.”