By Michael Bielecki
MELBOURNE – Vero Beach was held scoreless in the second half to lose their second game in as many weeks, falling Friday night 21-10 to Palm Bay.
The Fighting Indians gave up 14 points in the second half to drop to 7-2 on the season and will face Boca Raton (7-2) in the first round of the playoffs after a bye week.
The first half went back and forth, but VBHS drew first blood with a 32-yard field goal by Patrick Baker. Palm Bay QB Steven Hughes threw an interception to VBHS DB Edwin Saunders on the first offensive play of the game to set up the FG with 10:33 left to play in the first quarter.
Palm Bay came back on the next possession and drove 80 yards in 6:23 for their first TD. Pirate FB Patrick Leonard scored on a 2-yard dive up the middle to make the score 7-3. The Pirates attempted and recovered an onside kick with 4:05 left in the first quarter. Palm Bay started driving again when Vero Beach safety Larry Franklin laid a bone-jarring hit on Pirate TE Eamon Ryan to force a fumble off a Hughes 10-yard completion.
The Fighting Indians climbed on top of FB Jormonte Hunter’s shoulders after the turnover, and drove down the field for a score. Keyed by Hunter’s 32-yard run, the drive ended when he carried three Pirate defenders into the end zone for a 3-yard TD with 8:36 left in the second quarter. Baker’s PAT made the score 10-7, a lead which the Fighting Indians held at halftime.
The second half started off well for the Fighting Indians. Hunter broke off a powerful 20-yard run to put the VBHS offense into Pirate territory. Todd Fennell completed a 14-yard pass to Hunter before throwing an interception to Palm Bay DB Lomico Portis. The Pirates took the ball downfield and scored on a Steven Hughes 34-yard TD pass to wide receiver Ronald Riley. Palm Bay converted the PAT to lead the Fighting Indians 14-10.
Vero Beach started the ensuing drive using the hurry-up offense, and they had the Palm Bay defense in a hasty retreat when the game changing play occurred. QB Alex Bryan dropped back to pass and was under a heavy rush. The left-handed signal caller shed a defender, and sprinted toward the left sideline. With a Palm Bay defender draped on his back, Bryan spotted running back Antone Taylor and attempted to throw it to him.
The spiraling ball fell well short of Taylor, took a bounce, and Pirate defensive back Shaq Griffin grabbed the ball on a dead run and didn’t stop until he was in the end zone. The officials ruled the play a fumble recovery and gave Griffin a 68-yard TD fumble recovery. Palm Bay’s PAT built Palm Bay’s lead to 21-10.
The Fighting Indians didn’t give up, and they started driving down the field once again. Fennell was leading his team down the field when he was intercepted for the second time in the game, this time by DB Caleb Jackson at the Palm Bay 27.
With the win, Palm Bay’s improves to 7-2 and Vero Beach, dropping their second consecutive game, is also 7-2. Hunter had 118 yards and a TD run to lead VBHS in the loss.
Vero Beach Coach Gary Coggin took the loss in stride, and felt his team did a lot of things right tonight.
“I’m happy with a lot of things we did tonight,” said Coggin. “We did move the ball a little bit and that’s what we did – we’re a running football team. That’s what you do, you run the ball and move the chains, you keep the defense off the field. Palm Bay has big play potential, and their scoring came from big plays.”
Coggin didn’t agree with the fumble ruling that resulted in Palm Bay’s last TD. However, he said he wasn’t going to send the tape to the FHSAA for review in spite of what he felt was an incorrect ruling.
“It happened at a horrible time in the game,” said Coggin. “I called time out, talked to the official, and asked if that was his judgment. The official said that he felt that the ball was coming out of the QB’s hand, and I disagreed. It’s his opinion that counts.”
Vero Beach has a bye week next week before facing Boca Raton (7-2) in the first round of the playoffs.