SEBRING - Paced by a potent offense and a swarming defense, Sebring overwhelmed Mulberry by a score of 55-7 in the Kickoff Classic on Friday night at Firemen's Field.
The Class 6A Blue Streaks rushed for more than 150 yards against the Class 5A Panthers, and the Sebring defense returned an intercepted pass for a touchdown, forced a fumble that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, and the special teams got in the act with an 85-year kickoff return for another score.
"I liked that we used our weapons tonight and showed what they can do with the ball in their hands," said Sebring football coach LaVaar Scott. "I think the 55 points might be close to our total from last year and it felt good to see us execute and put the ball in the end zone.
"The defense played well and didn't give up a score because Mulberry scored on special teams."
Sebring was forced to punt after making a first down on its first possession and Mulberry took over at its 25.
Panther tailback Ben Sirmon rushed for a first down, but quarterback Tyler Armstrong was intercepted by Sebring's Jarvis Bridges and the sophomore linebacker raced 37 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. The extra point was wide right and the Blue Streaks led 6-0 with 5:33 remaining in the first quarter.
Mulberry answered quickly as Lorenz Berry took the kickoff back 90 yards for a touchdown. The point after gave the Panthers a 7-6 lead.
Not to be outdone, Sebring's Ladante Harris took the ensuing kickoff back 85 yards for a touchdown.
The 2-point run failed and the Blue Streaks led 12-7 with 5:00 left in the first period.
After an exchange of punts, Sebring drove inside the Panther 9, but a fumble stopped the scoring threat.
Mulberry went nowhere against the fast and physical Blue Streak defense and punted to the Sebring 40.
The Blue Streaks put together a nine-play, 60-yard drive with A.J. Gayle bulling his way into the end zone from 8 yards out. The extra point by Hunter Livingston was true to give Sebring a 19-7 lead with 1:23 remaining in the first half.
"Our offensive line did a good job of blocking and our backs ran hard," Scott said. "You could see we were ready to play against somebody else and this was a good start for us."
Sebring recovered a perfectly executed onside kick and recovered the ball at the Panther 47.
A 37-yard pas completion from quarterback Jair Watson to Harris moved the ball to the Mulberry 11 and Gayle found the end zone for the second time from 5 yards out. The point after gave the Blue Streaks a commanding 26-7 lead at the half.
The second half was all Sebring as the offense drove down the field and scored to build its lead to 33-7 with 9:03 left in the third quarter.
Mulberry's next possession ended in disaster as Armstrong was sacked and fumbled the ball into the end zone where the Blue Streaks pounced on it for a touchdown. The blocked extra point left the Blue Streaks with a 39-7 lead midway through the period.
The punchless Panthers offense went nowhere and on fourth down a high snap over the punters head allowed a Sebring safety to make it 41-7.
The Blue Streaks took the ensuing punt and returned it to the Mulberry 10-yard line.
Willie Allen scampered in from 2 yards out to make it 48-7 with 5:06 left in the third quarter.
"I wanted to see how we came out for the third quarter," Scott said. "We didn't have many leads last year and we came out and put the dagger in Mulberry and that's good.
"We did have one fumble in the red zone and we had some mental mistakes, but we played hard and with a lot of energy."
A running clock was used for the final quarter and Sebring still managed to find the end zone one last time as Giovanni Jenkins scored on a short run for the final score.
"It was a good start but we have several things that we can improve on," Scott said. "It was a small step for us and we have to stay humble and keep working hard."
Sebring opens the regular season at home on Friday night against Lake Highlands Prep (Orlando).
"I don't know much about Lake Highland Prep," the Blue Streak coach said. "We'll exchange game film this week and see what they look like.
"I know they have a real good quarterback and a good program."