Andy Warrener, Times Correspondent
TAMPA – For all the offensive fireworks that Cambridge Christian has lit this season, its defense has come up with the key plays in the playoffs to keep the Lancers’ postseason, undefeated season and now their state championship aspirations alive.
Quarterback Jaylin Jackson, stepping in on defense, picked off a pass tipped by Zach Stein and returned it 60 yards to give the Lancers their margin of victory in another heart-stopping victory, this one 30-26 over Naples First Baptist.
“These guys are resilient, unflappable,” Lancers coach Bob Dare said. “The last three games have been like this; I didn’t know it was possible for me to grow any more gray hairs.”
The Lancers (12-0) looked on pace to cruise to the state finals as they scored 20 unanswered points to start the game. Only a Lion fumble recovery and return of 73 yards by Michael Ritter, just before halftime, gave the Lions life.
“That helped get us back in the game,” First Baptist coach Billy Sparacio said. “We were frustrated and down in the game but that rejuvenated us.”
The Lions brought a ferocious run game to Skyway Park. They had run all over Dade Christian for 407 yards and five touchdowns in the regional final with lead running back Dylan Cibelli gaining 227 yards.
The Lancers made a concerted effort to shut down the run game and left defensive back J’Kobi Reddick on his own to handle 6-foot-3 receiver Eddie Burnham. Reddick held his own through the first half and Cibelli only gained 36 yards rushing in the game. The FBA ground attack only mustered 119 yards, 47 on a late touchdown run by quarterback Tyler Dean.
“We knew we had to stop the run so we had to (put Reddick) one-on-one to stop their power run game,” Dare said. “That was a pretty tough assignment.”
Things got even tougher as Burnham returned another fumble for a score to close the gap to 20-14. Then a furious fourth quarter unfolded.
The Lancers stopped the Lions on fourth down deep in their own territory and Joshua Mendoza’s 60-yard punt flipped field position but the Lions scored on a big pass play to Burnham with 5:42 to play. Scott Ater blocked the point after to keep it 20-20. The Lancers got a 30-yard field goal from Jacob Enns to go up 23-20 with 1:38 left. Burnham returned the kickoff to near midfield but Jackson struck with his pick-six, the team’s fourth of the year. First Baptist struck back on a run by Dean and cut it to 30-26 with 25 seconds left. The ensuing onside kick attempt didn’t go 10 yards and the Lancers took over and ran out the final seconds.
“As soon as I caught that ball I knew I was going to run it in for a touchdown,” Jackson said. “Then a big hole opened up and I hit it with all my speed, got a couple blocks and I was in.”
Jackson played defensive back for Cambridge as a freshman and was called in late in the fourth to help lock down Burnham, who came on late and finished with 223 yards and a score, most of it in the second half.
2016 Tampa Bay Times