Tre’Von Taylor and Christoper Johnson connected for the game-winning touchdown with 1:10 left as Palm Beach Lakes advanced to the regional semifinals
WEST PALM BEACH — With less than three minutes to go and top-seeded Palm Beach Lakes football down by one, an undefeated season seemed to be slipping away. An early playoff exit appeared imminent.
Eighth-seeded Tarpon Springs-East Lake had the ball and was content to run out the clock. Then, it happened. The Rams’ defense forced a fumble, recovering the ball and giving its offense one last chance.
The offense took full advantage.
With 1:10 remaining, Christoper Johnson got free down the sideline, and quarterback Tre’Von Taylor dropped a dime into the wideout’s hands for the game-winning score in a 32-27 win Friday in a Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinal.
"I couldn't do it without my guys," Johnson said. "There's nothing like going to war with your brothers when your back’s against the wall. I mean, I'm starting to get emotional talking about it right now. I wasn't ready to go home, that's all I can say."
He wasn’t, and neither were the Rams, who held on for the five-point victory in a game that began with East Lake (6-5) jumping out to a 17-0 lead. Palm Beach Lakes (10-0) responded by scoring the next 26 points, setting up a frantic finish.
"It was a great game," Palm Beach Lakes coach Al Shipman said. "That was a great test for us. This was probably our only real test of the year. I've got to give that team a lot of credit. They came down, they fought hard, all the way till the end. It's playoff football, though. It's what it's all about. Our kids have got to understand that you're going to get everybody's best game."
He then echoed Johnson’s words.
"It's win or go home, and nobody wants to go home."
Coach Shipman with another Gatorade bath! #PBCP pic.twitter.com/OqpPS3hmaU— Alex Peterman (@Alex_Peterman) November 9, 2019
The Rams now will rest up for next Friday’s regional semifinal against No. 5 Venice.
Taylor led the offense with four scores, three passing and one rushing, and Johnson had two second-half touchdown catches.
With the rain coming down, the visiting Eagles played a dominant first half and quashed any offensive momentum the Rams could muster.
Until very late in the half, Palm Beach Lakes’ biggest play was a run by cornerback Ajay Bradley on a fake punt deep inside their own territory.
Though that drive did not prove fruitful, the next one did. Antorey Williams got help from a crushing block, taking a short pass for a long gain. The big play set up a touchdown run by Outler to cut the Rams’ deficit to 17-7.
Suddenly, there was hope.
Still, Palm Beach Lakes trailed by 10 at halftime. Then the third quarter started and the Rams reeled off four straight scores.
Micah "Speedy" Butler was on the receiving end of a touchdown pass midway through the third quarter that put the Rams up 20-17.
And then Conroy Cunningham went to work.
The senior linebacker forced an Eagles fumble, and the Rams recovered, turning the visitors’ mistake into points on the board.
The crowd goes crazy as Johnson hauls in the wide-open pass for the go-ahead score. The Rams go up 32-27 with 1:10 to go. #PBCPreps pic.twitter.com/NUKkW649Z0— Alex Peterman (@Alex_Peterman) November 9, 2019
"It just shows the resiliency of our football team," Shipman said. "Conroy Cunningham had a huge, huge interception for us that kind of helped keep that momentum going. Quarterback (Tre’Von Taylor), he kept coming up to me, he said, 'Coach, we're going to score, okay? We're going to score.' And they went out and we just executed."
That interception was the second turnover in less than ten minutes of play for Cunningham, who set up the Rams with phenomenal field position.
"It was definitely a game-changer," Cunningham said. "Our team continues to make big plays, and we went out there and made big plays, and we executed."
And just like Taylor promised, the offense capitalized. Johnson set the Rams up in scoring position by drawing a defensive pass interference penalty and then connected with Taylor on a slant route for the touchdown and a 26-17 lead.
It took the Eagles 14 seconds to respond, scoring a touchdown to draw within 26-24. Then, they took the lead on a field goal with 4:30 remaining.
And then when all looked lost, Lakes put together one last comeback. They forced a turnover, Butler popped up with a fourth-down catch to extend the drive and then Taylor found Johnson for the go-ahead score.
The undefeated season, and dreams of a deep postseason run, remain intact.