The celebration began one play early.
In the midst of overtime, a blitzing Palmetto Panthers defense came with a strip sack against Coral Gables quarterback Gerald Williams. After the whistle was blown, the Panthers stormed the field, with the indication that they recovered the ball to seal the victory only to find out the officials ruled it was still Cavaliers ball.
No worries for the Panthers. Coral Gables missed the ensuing 44-yard field goal attempt to seal Palmetto’s 16-13 comeback win on Thursday at Tropical Park.
“That was clearly a Palmetto ball, but hey, the refs said they didn’t see it so we had to keep playing,” Palmetto coach Mike Manasco said. “That’s what I tell the kids. We go through adversity in every situation we can in practice and try to put kids in spots where they understand. The last thing I want is a bunch of kids trying to ref the game. I might get fined if I comment on that, but it was nice. They missed the field goal. Hey, there it is.”
The Panthers (4-0) trailed 13-0 heading into the fourth quarter, with Coral Gables (3-2) scoring on a fumble recovery for a touchdown on Palmetto’s opening drive and tacking on a pair of short field goals in the first half. More than a dozen first-half penalties, including eight false starts, didn’t help Palmetto’s cause either.
“That is so uncharacteristic of the way we play,” Manasco said. “We couldn’t even take one step forward without taking 15 back.”
But Palmetto turned up its game in the final quarter with a pair of quick and clutch scoring drives.
The first came thanks to a short field. With Coral Gables set to punt late in the third quarter on a fourth-and-14, the Palmetto defense rushed into the backfield, forcing the punter to hold onto the ball and run. Palmetto took over at the Gables 18-yard line and scored seven plays later on a 2-yard rushing touchdown from Ralph Williams. A missed extra point made the score 13-6.
The second came thanks to a clutch drive from quarterback Cairiq Rackley. After forcing a three-and-out, Palmetto got the ball back with 2:56 left to play. Rackley marched the Panthers 75 yards down the field in six plays, capping the drive with a 27-yard game-tying touchdown pass to Kentron Poitier.
And then things got crazy.
Palmetto’s Bryan Lima forced a strip sack on the ensuing defensive possession, giving Palmetto the ball in Coral Gables territory with less than a minute to go. A fourth-down completion from Rackley to Poitier put Palmetto at the 1-yard line with three seconds left on the clock. A blocked field goal sent the game to overtime, where Palmetto hit a 21-yard attempt on its first drive of the extra period before its defense stood tall for the win.
Palmetto opens district play next week against Southridge. Coral Gables aims to improve to 2-0 in district play when it plays Miami Beach.