Opening the game with defensive linemen in the backfield, playing one of its top receivers as quarterback, going for it near the goal line; Mainland tried just about everything to crack Carol City's suffocating defense.
A few things worked in spurts, but in the end, the Bucs were unable to deliver a knockout blow in Friday's regional semifinal slugfest.
Miami commit Camron Davis' 31-yard touchdown run in the early stages of the third quarter proved to be the difference in Carol City's 17-10 victory over the host Bucs, a rematch of last year's Region 4-6A title game.
Neither team topped 200 yards of total offense, leading Mainland coach Scott Wilson to heap hefty praise on his defensive unit.
"(They were) outstanding," Wilson said. "Smash-mouth, standing up in the paint, bringing it to them. The drive at the start of the third quarter got us, but other than that, what more could you ask for?"
Carol City (8-3) advances to an all-305 showdown next week against Miami Northwestern, a 24-18 winner over Miami Central on Friday. Mainland ends the year with a 7-4 record.
Mainland squandered two golden opportunities to tie the game before halftime.
The Bucs gained a huge boost of momentum when Anthony Graham drilled Carol City quarterback Legend Moore to disrupt a third-down pass, and Kamron Lee blocked the ensuing punt at the Chiefs' 23-yard line.
Facing 3rd-and-goal from the 6, Richard Kamara skipped a potential touchdown pass to Tank Dell at the pylon. Rather than attempt a field goal, the Bucs called a similar play and came up empty.
"We felt like the previous play was open, so we ran the same play, just in a different way," Wilson said. "We trusted it there and wanted to get the points."
Led by a huge stuff by Darius Toby on Davis, the Bucs' defense forced another 3-and-out, and Brian Jenkins returned the punt to the Carol City 20.
But a botched snap and a string of penalties set Mainland all the way back to midfield as time expired.
Dell under center
Two weeks ago, Wilson said his offense installed a package for Dell to line up at quarterback. It proved to be Mainland's best weapon.
Dell, a Florida International commit, broke off a 19-yard run on his first carry and punctuated the Bucs' best drive of the night with a 30-yard score late in the third.
"This was my first time (at quarterback), so I tried to make the best of it," said Dell, who hauled in a team-high three receptions for 20 yards. "I put my all on the line for my teammates, and I was ready to do anything for them."
Carol City converted two big third downs on its opening possession, highlighted by a 33-yard connection from Moore to Michael Bucknor on a slant. Javez Johnson capped off the drive with a 21-yard field goal.
The Chiefs caught Mainland with a haymaker on its next snap when Gregory Grate shimmied and turned the corner for a 48-yard touchdown run down the left sideline.
"We allow one touchdown a game because we tend to relax. That's what happened," junior linebacker Demaurez Bellamy said.
Davis was largely bottled up, but found room to run when the Chiefs exited halftime in a pistol formation with Marlon Smith behind center. He bounced to his right, shed tacklers and stayed on his feet inside the 5-yard line for the eventual winning score.
Davis ran 17 times for 58 yards. Mainland junior D'Andre McMillian led all rushers with 62 yards on 20 attempts.
Bellamy got the call, though, with the game on the line. On 4th-and-2 with 4:30 left, Carol City's line surged through to tackle him for a loss.