WINTER HAVEN - By the time Winter Haven's Darian Mills took his first snap from the center, his Blue Devils were already up 14-0.
That's the kind of game it was for Sebring on Friday night at Denison Stadium, as the Devils trounced the Blue Streaks by a score of 43-0 to take a decisive advantage in the Class 6A-District 11 standings.
"I'm at a loss for words," said Sebring coach LaVaar Scott. "We fought at times, and did some good things, but overall, it was just too many self-inflicted wounds to overcome."
"And against a great team, you just can't do that."
Sebring (5-2, 1-1 6A-11) took the ball to start the game, but struggled to get its run game going under a swarming Winter Haven (6-2, 2-0 6A-11) defense. After three offensive plays resulted in little yardage, the Streaks punted to the Devils' Kendrick Holland, who escaped to the sidelines and streaked up field for a 56-yard touchdown to put the Devils up 7-0.
Following another stalled drive, Sebring again punted, this time to D'Angelo Gaines, but the end result was nearly the same. Gaines used the sidelines to escape the Streaks return coverage, and bolted 71 yards practically untouched into the end zone to put the Devils up 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
The Streaks came out passing on their next possession. Quarterback Connor Cook gunned the ball to Jacquae Peart for a five yard gain, and followed that with a draw play to set up a crucial third-and-short. But a big collision jarred the ball from Peart's hands and Sebring was forced to punt for the third time in the quarter.
The miscues on special teams continued for Sebring, as the snap went over the punter's head. While Winter Haven didn't have the chance for a third consecutive score on punt returns, the poor field position that resulted from the botched snap set up the Devils for an easy touchdown. And Mario Leonard barreled into the end zone after three plays to put Winter Haven on top 21-0.
The Devils continued their scoring barrage in the second quarter. Aided by a dubious pass interference penalty, Winter Haven quickly got down to the Streaks goal line, where Holland waltzed in from five yards out for his second touchdown of the game to put the Devils up 28-0.
Sebring responded with its best drive of the night, crossing midfield for just the second time in the opening half. Giovanni Jenkins and Ladante Harris paced the streaks, as the duo alternated carries to push Sebring down field. Following a high snap, Jenkins snatched the ball from the air and escaped outside the pocket to turn what a nearly disastrous play into positive yardage.
Down four scores and facing a big fourth down in Winter Haven territory, Sebring decided to go for it. But once again, confusion between the officials benefitted the Devils. Jair Watson took the snap and appeared to get tackled in the backfield, but somehow, he managed to keep his knee from hitting the turf. Standing still with a Devils defender still wrapped around his leg, both teams looked around expecting to hear a whistle. When no noise was heard, Watson's teammates encouraged him to bolt for the end zone. But once Watson started down the sidelines, the officials intervened, citing that he was already brought down in the backfield. That was as close as the Streaks got to scoring for the entire game.
Taking over on downs, Winter Haven put together a quick drive to get into Sebring territory with less than 15 seconds left in the first half. The Streaks flushed Mills out of the pocket and a scramble from sideline to sideline ensued. Despite an off balance throw, Mills found Darius James in the corner of the end zone for the Devils fifth touchdown of the half. Mills added the two point conversion to give Winter Haven a commanding 36-0 lead heading into intermission.
Winter Haven pulled most of its starters for the start of the second half, but it had little effect on the Devils offensive tempo. Tekedrick Roberson took over in the back field, and along with some timely scrambles from Mills, marched Winter Haven down field in four plays. Mills kept the ball on a draw play and dove over two Sebring defenders for his second score of the night to put Winter Haven up 43-0.
Even with the loss, Sebring still has a shot at the playoffs. The Streaks are in second place in the 6A-11 standings, and with a game against district rival Lake Gibson set for Nov. 1, the team knows there's still a lot left to play for.
"We've still got a chance," Scott said. "And seeing our leaders stepping up on the sidelines and cheering their teammates showed me a lot. So we're just going come out Monday and go back to work and be a good football team."
"We're going to keep fighting. I guarantee you that."