PORT CHARLOTTE — The Port Charlotte sideline was unflustered with five minutes, 15 seconds remaining in Friday’s game against North Fort Myers.
Even though the Red Knights had just taken a 10-point lead, there was no panic.
“We really have a special group,” coach Jordan Ingman said. “We were very calm. There was disappointment, but nobody was blaming anybody. There were a lot of things that night that were really tough, and our kids did a great job of mentally staying strong.
“Normally, I feel like most teams, when you get down by 10 points with five minutes left, a lot of teams would pack their tent, but our kids didn’t, and that’s a credit to them.”
On the ensuing kickoff after a North Fort Myers touchdown gave them a 34-24 advantage, Ernest Harvey fielded the ball at the 20-yard line. Harvey initially bobbled the kick, but when he looked up, he saw that lane all kick returners want.
“I got the ball, and everyone did a good job blocking,” Harvey said. “I just followed my blocks to the end zone.”
Harvey returned the kick 80 yards for a touchdown thanks to that great blocking by his teammates, specifically Josh Hobbs, who had the key block.
Suddenly, there was five minutes remaining in the game and the Pirates were trailing by just three points.
If they were going to come back in this game, it would be the second time they erased a double-digit deficit, as the Pirates entered halftime trailing 21-10 before two third-quarter touchdowns gave them a 24-21 lead.
“Everything at that point was self-imposed,” Ingman said. “There were points in the game where we didn’t play well, but we played with great effort throughout the game. It was a roller coaster of emotions on a lot of fronts, but the good thing that was a constant that wasn’t a roller coaster was our effort. Our effort from the first quarter to the last bell was outstanding.”
Now it was up to the defense to make a stand. North Fort Myers running back Zaquandre White was having a great game. He had 147 yards on 23 carries with a punt return for a touchdown already when the Port Charlotte defense forced a fourth-and-one situation for the Red Knights.
On white’s 24th carry of the evening, he slipped and fell, which turned the ball over on downs, and gave the Pirates possession near midfield with 2:19 remaining on the clock.
Quarterback Paul Barnes handed the ball off to Harvey on the third play of the drive.
Harvey ran up the middle, cut once to his left, again to his right, and then he was off.
He ran 45 yards untouched by any North Fort Myers defender, and gave his team a 38-34 lead with 1:21 left in the game.
“It was a play we had run several times during the night,” Ingman said. “There were probably 10 or 15 times before that where we were one guy at different positions away from breaking that one open. On that particular play, we executed all 11 perfectly, and it was something we knew if we could get all 11 to execute we’d have a chance.”
Earlier in the game, TJ Luther returned 55-yard pooch kick for a touchdown, which gave Port Charlotte a 7-6 lead in the second quarter.
Luther’s heroics weren’t done just yet, as he intercepted Red Knight quarterback Ben Pogue in the final few seconds of the game to clinch a victory for the Pirates.
“They kind of did the same play two times,” Luther said. “So I pretty much thought they were going to do it again. The defensive line put pressure on the quarterback to force a bad throw, and that’s pretty much it.”
Port Charlotte was originally scheduled to play against Sebring tonight, but due to Hurricane Matthew, the game was canceled. It was initially believed the game would be rescheduled for tomorrow at 12 p.m., but according to Ingman, Highlands County School District says schools aren’t allowed to participate in activities until Monday.
Due to it being a non-district game, the Pirates were advised to not make up the game on Monday as to better prepare for its district matchup against Ida Baker.