LAKELAND – It was close and cold.
Santa Fe Catholic rallied from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to take a brief lead but fell short 28-21 to defending champions Fort Myers Canterbury in the Sunshine State Football Championship Series state title game on Saturday at Bryant Stadium.
“They don’t quit but it was the mistakes of our youngness that caught up with us,” said Santa Fe head coach Joe Faiola, whose team racked up 110 yards in penalties. “Our kids have a will to win and they made their mind up to come back at halftime. I am extremely proud of this football team.”
Canterbury quarterback Cade Kirschner lofted a towering desperation pass that was caught by Austin Alley near the goal line with two Santa Fe defenders covering on the play, and Alley stepped into the end zone for the winning scores with 1:12 left in the game.
“I was rolling out and seen Austin open and I under-threw him a little bit, but he still came up with the catch,” Kirschner said. “It is a great feeling to win back-to-back. We are a great family and it’s been an awesome season.”
Santa Fe was trailing by 11 heading into the fourth quarter with everyone in the stadium shivering from the unusual cold weather. But that is when the Hawks went to work.
Santa Fe quarterback Logan Wright hit Keyshon Fuller with a 40-yard pass with 11:53 remaining to pull the Hawks within six at 20-15. On the ensuing Canterbury possession, Armani Pinkston made a clutch interception off Kirschner and raced the ball back to the Cougars’ 34.
Five plays later, Aquil Glover scored on a 4-yard run to give Santa Fe 21-20 lead with 5:53 remaining. It was Pinkston’s second touchdown of the night. He had scored in the first quarter on a 9-yard run and finished the game with 116 yards rushing on 20 carries.
“We put in a heck of an effort and I can’t thank my guys enough for stepping up,” said Wright, who finished 8 of 35 for 147 yards and one touchdown. “We played hard but we just couldn’t pull it out tonight. We worked too hard not to come back and we did.”
Santa Fe had owned the first quarter and also picked up a 22-yard field goal by Noah Mcmann to open the game’s scoring and eventually built a 9-0 lead. But Canterbury answered with 13 second quarter points, getting a 3-yard touchdown run by
Hunter Thomas and two field goals from Alley. Also, in the third quarter, Canterbury scored on a 34-yard fumble recovery by Owen Hawley to build the 20-9 lead.
Santa Fe (5-6) had started the season 1-4 and then won four of its next five games to reach the title game. The Hawks will only lose six seniors to graduation and left with a state runner-up trophy to go with their 2015 state championship trophy.
Bill Kemp can be reached at Bill.Kemp@theledger.com; follow him on Twitter @BillKempSports
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