Braves Do Unthinkable in 18-15 Win

LAKELAND – In a playoff season that has been quite uncertain, there is one thing that is guaranteed after Friday night: the Armwood Hawks will not go to four state championship games in a row.img_8777

The Lake Gibson Braves hosted the Hawks in a game of district champions, and they came out on top thanks to a field goal that split the uprights as time expired. The defensive battle was evident in the final 18-15 score, but the most important part about it all was the play of special teams.

Armwood tallied the first points on the board when RB Erin Collins broke through the defense along the right side to run in from 31 yards out. However, a missed PAT led to them only getting six points at that point – that PAT could’ve gave them the game. Three plays later, Armwood would force Lake Gibson to punt due to two sacks on Lake Gibson QB Kevaris Thomas.

Lake Gibson’s defense held strong and forced a three and out on the next drive to put the Braves on their 20. Two plays later, Thomas would split the cover two defense by finding Antonio Denson for a 79 yard touchdown and Lake Gibson’s first points. The PAT was missed, so the game was tied at 6.

A couple possessions later, Armwood ticked about five minutes off the clock with a 13-play drive that netted them a 26 yard field goal by Nikko Arvanitis, which would give the Hawks a 9-6 lead going into the half.

The first pass from Thomas in the second half was intercepted by Tareeq Welch, who gave the Hawks the ball at their 36. Armload’s drive would stall due to a false start and delay of game penalty that drove them back five yards a piece. Thomas would throw another pass to be intercepted, this time by Nigel Graham, which gave Armwood quite a bit of momentum.

“We’ve been fighting adversity throughout the whole season, and in the offseason. We’ve put kids in spots to make them overcome things, they fight, they battle, they don’t ever quit, they just keep plugging away. They believe in each other, they believe in this coaching staff, and they believe in this program,” said Lake Gibson Head Coach Doug DeMyer.

That momentum didn’t seem to matter to Lake Gibson DE Shavonta Timothy Jr., who picked up a fumble and returned it down to the Armwood 15-yard line, which set up the first of Nick Lutz’s four field goals. On the ensuing Armwood possession, Timothy Jr. sacked Armwood QB Devin Black to force a punt, but then things got interesting when Lake Gibson blocked it.

Lutz kicked his second field goal of the night, a 26-yarder, that gave Lake Gibson a very important 12-9 lead.

“Everybody did what they had to do to get the quarterback off balance and throw some bad passes, and we just played Braves football,” said Timothy Jr.

Lutz had his third field goal when he banged a 43-yard attempt through the uprights to give Lake Gibson a 15-9 lead. But then, Black ran for a 32-yard score to put Armwood an extra point from taking the lead with just over six minutes to play. Arvanitis couldn’t even get the ball off the ground, and Lake Gibson was able to keep it tied.

The last drive was a methodical one, even though it was only a five-play drive, but it was one where Thomas showed what kind of player he could be in the clutch. He threw to D’Shawn Graham for 11 yards. Then he ran for eight to get the ball into Hawk territory. Then he ran it for 15. Then he handed it off to LaVarrion Nereus for another 12. Then Thomas took it himself for five more. The ball was supposed to be on the Armwood 13. But, Ricardo Watson jumped offside.

To the eight. Three seconds to play. All Lutz had to do was to drill a 23-yarder, and the Braves were doing the unthinkable: defeating Armwood. Good snap, good hold, good kick, and the entire Lake Gibson sideline was on the field in seconds.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was on JV, when our game winning kick got taken away from us,” Lutz said. “My coach was talking to me about a kicker he used to play with that wasn’t having as great a year as he’d like, but then he came out in the playoffs and then demolished this one team. I took everything he said to heart and it worked out.”

With Ocala Vanguard’s win over Mitchell, the Braves will travel to Ocala to have a rematch with the Knights – Lake Gibson previously won 35-14 a month ago.