The Lake Wales Highlanders beat the Palmetto Tigers 17-14 Friday in a playoff game at their own stadium.
The Tigers fell to 9-3 this year with the loss while the Highlanders are now 8-4 this year. This is the first time the Highlanders have been in a regional semi-final game since 2009.
With Lake Wales kicking off to start the home playoff game, the Highlanders and Palmetto Tigers exchanged the ball three times in the first quarter.
Palmetto is was forced to punt to Lake Wales with about five minutes left in the first quarter and the Highlanders picked it up near the 25.
Railond Garrett on a keeper picked up a first down.
Tony Reeves caught a Garrett screen at the left hash just beyond the line of scrimmage and was off to the races with open field. He was untouched for 63 yards for the first touchdown of the evening. Tate Mathewson’s extra-point is good. The score is 7-0 Lake Wales.
Palmetto received the kickoff near the 25 after some hard hitting action by the Lake Wales special teams. Tigers quarterback Chris Tuten threw a complete to pick up a first down and put the ball at the Tigers 46. Tuten handed off to Josh Hicks who ran to the 30. However, a holding call on the Tigers erased the gain. Tuten attempted a pass but it fell incomplete to end the first quarter.
Hicks opens up the second quarter with a 6-yard run into Highlanders territory at the 48-yard line. However, the Lake Wales defense was able to hold them on third down and force the Tigers to punt.
The Highlanders picked things up offensively at their 20-yard line.
The Palmetto defense was bringing their A-game and held the Highlanders on all three downs.
Mathewson came back to punt for the Highlanders and got the ball to the Highlanders 48.
The Tigers ran the reverse and caught the Lake Wales defense totally off guard. With Lake Wales unable to respond, EJ Burston easily ran 48 yards up the left sideline for the touchdown.
A flag was called on the Tigers extra point attempt and sent them backward. However, even with the added yardage from the penalty, the kick was good and the game was tied 7-7 with 8:54 left in the half.
Tony Reeves carried the ball for Lake Wales for a first down as the Highlanders amped up their running game to get the ball into Palmetto territory. Reeves got it again at the 50 followed by Justin Henderson who got the ball to the 41.
Garrett on a keeper picked up a first down at the Tigers 32.
The Highlanders ran an attack and kept chipping away at the Tigers defense with Reeves leading the charge. Reeves picked up a first down before a water break is called with 6:29 left to play in the first half.
The ball was on the 15 yard line. Reeves got the ball to the 9 yard line before being literally lifted off the ground by a Tigers defender. This will bring up third and one and Lake Wales called a time out.
Jonte Sergeant ran up the middle to pick up the first down for the Highlanders and placed the ball at the 11. A second carry by Sergeant picked up six more yards to get the ball to the 5. A run by Reeves got the ball to the three yard line.
This set up third and three on the three yard line. An injury time out was called for an as the Tigers Duron Lawery lay motionless. Lawery fortunately walked off the field.
Reeves was given the ball and loses a yard on the play to bring up four and goal. Tate Mathewson connected for a field goal giving the Highlanders a three-point edge over the Tigers at 10-7 Lake Wales with 3:10 left in the first half.
EJ Burston on the return for the Tigers was stopped by McGriff at the Palmetto 26-yard line. Hicks took a handoff on the first play from scrimmage and was stopped by Bobby Leath at the line of scrimmage.
The Tigers had third and five at their 32. A screen pass was completed by Tuten on third down. The Tigers had field position at their 45. Tuten threw with a strike to Shaquille Harris at the sideline near the Lake Wales 40. Tuten again went to the air has but his pass broken up by Dakarial Scott. Tuten still attempting to put the ball through the air stepped beyond the line of scrimmage for a loss of down with 54 seconds to play in the half. Tuten then completed a pass to running back Hicks and Lake Wales’ John Dunn was able to make the stop at the 33. that brought up fourth and eight and a 50-yard field goal attempt that fell short.
The teams went in at halftime with Lake Wales ahead 10-7.
In the third quarter Lake Wales took a 10-point lead when with 9:14 in the quarter, Garrett hit Davi’on Riley with a 12-yard touchdown pass. Mathewson followed it with an extra point to put the Highlanders up 17-7.
Neither team could score in the quarter, but the Tigers pulled back to within three points early in the fourth quarter.
On a punt from inside the end zone, the ball came loose and was saved on a scoop out of the end zone the special teams to give the Highlanders the ball at their four-yard line. Lake Wales’ Hamilton fumbled the ball and Hicks ran it in for a touchdown. Zack Reda’s extra point was good and it made the score 17-14.
The winner of this game will face Immokalee next week. The Highlanders beat Immokalee at home on Sept. 21 19-14.