In each of his team's three losses this year, Charles H. Flowers High School football coach Mike Mayo has seen his team fall behind early and then fall painstakingly short of victory.
Saturday afternoon in the 4A South Region semifinals, against previously undefeated Eleanor Roosevelt, Flowers got the first points, then trailed 8-7 before a fourth-quarter touchdown lifted the Jaguars to a 13-8 win.
The Jaguars will visit Suitland next Saturday in the 4A South Region final after the Rams edged three-time defending region champion Henry A. Wise, 21-20, in the other semifinal on Saturday.
Flowers lost to Roosevelt 20-12 when the teams met during the regular season, and the Jaguars also suffered one-point losses to Wise and Suitland.
“Getting that first touchdown today was huge,” said Mayo, who has guided Flowers to the 4A South Region final on six previous occasions but never beyond it. “We didn't have to play the whole game from behind. Roosevelt made some adjustments at halftime and they scored and then we made some adjustments and scored. That's football. I thought the kids made some plays. The last time we played them we didn't make plays.”
On Saturday, however, Flowers made plays right from the outset. Armani Jenkins returned the opening kickoff 33 yards to the 45-yard-line, and on the game's first play from scrimmage Jaguars' quarterback Johnathan Holland connected with wide receiver Larry Smith for 34 yards.
Six plays later, junior running back Daequan Davis scored on a 1-yard run, and sophomore Malik White added the extra point for a 7-0 Flowers' lead with 8 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
Roosevelt crossed midfield on its first possession before being forced to punt, and the Jaguars responded with a 17-play drive that ended on a Holland incomplete pass at the Raiders' 23-yard line. That drive, just like the one that resulted in the Jaguars' first touchdown, was kept alive by an encroachment penalty against Roosevelt on fourth down and two yards to go.
Roosevelt mistakes were a common theme throughout the afternoon and partly were responsible for the Raiders demise.
Roosevelt reached Flowers' territory on a 33-yard run by Jermaine Boykins in the second quarter. But on third and one, senior quarterback Shawn Petty was stuffed at the line of scrimmage and fumbled the ball, and Flowers' senior James Brown recovered. On the Raiders' next possession, Brown intercepted a Petty pass and returned it to the Raiders' 27-yard line with 40 seconds left in the half. The second quarter clock ran out after consecutive Holland incompletions.
“All week long [in practice] the coaches had us in position to make plays, and then we came out and made plays,” Brown said. “On the fumble, our defensive line got a good push and I fell on the ball. Then on the interception, I saw the ball get tipped [by a Jaguars' defender] and then I just caught it. I think the coaches had us mentally prepared for this game. I think the next week of practice is going to be just as hard.”
Despite the numerous mistakes in the first half, Roosevelt trailed only 7-0. Senior fullback Joe Ukwu rumbled 36 yards to the Jaguars' 26-yard line, and three plays later Petty scored on a 13-yard run and Chris McDowney added a two-pont conversion run. Less than three minutes into the third quarter, Roosevelt led 8-7.
Roosevelt was in Flowers territory again on its next possession, but Petty was stopped one yard short of a first down on a fourth-down quarterback keeper. On the Jaguars' first play, Holland connected with wide receiver Keith Payne for 49 yards to the Raiders' 20-yard line. Flowers was unable to take advantage, though, turning the ball over own downs. But the Jaguars got the ball back quickly when Shawn Elliott intercepted a Petty pass at the Roosevelt 30-yard line.
This time, the Jaguars took advantage of the short field.
Holland connected with Smith for an 8-yard game on fourth down that kept the drive alive. Five plays later, Holland hit Smith for a 10-yard touchdown pass. Holland had a two-point conversion run nullified by a penalty, and the Jaguars were unable to convert from the 10-yard line, leaving them with a 13-8 lead with 9:10 to play.
“We thought we could pick on some of their cover guys,” Holland said. “My receivers ran some great routes and our offensive line did a great job protecting me. It feels great to beat them and go to the region final. We knew all of these games were going to be close. We lost three games on the road and we have to play on the road now, but that's football.”
Roosevelt started its next drive at midfield, reached the Jaguars' 25-yard line when Petty connected with Tyrone Temoney, but from there the drive stalled. A motion penalty, a sack and three consecutive incomplete passes ended that drive. On its last possession, Roosevelt did not reach midfield, and the Raiders turned the ball over on downs.
“After the game, I just told the kids that I let them down,” said Roosevelt coach Tom Green. “I apologized to them for not having them prepared for this game. We had turnovers and penalties, and you can't do that in close games. We scored to start the second half, but the longer they hung around the more difficult it was going to be.”
4A South Region semifinals: Flowers 13, Roosevelt 8
Flowers (8-3) 7 0 0 6 -- 13
Roosevelt (10-1) 0 0 8 0 -- 8
F: Davis 1 run (White kick)
R: Petty 13 run (McDowney run)
F: Holland 10 pass to Payne (pass failed)
Rushing leaders: F - Davis 14-39, Hylton 8-51. R - Petty 14-73, Ukwu 7-66.
Passing leaders: F - Holland 9-18-128-0. R - Petty 3-11-28-2
Receiving leaders: F - Smith 3-44, Payne 3-70, Taylor 1-10, Walker 1-1, Hylton 1-3. R - Temoney 2-28, Warren 2-12.