A loss is a loss, the saying goes- that’s why they keep score.
And the record book will show that on Friday night the Gulliver Raiders lost to the Booker T. Washington Tornadoes 34-31 in a Region 4-4A semifinal game at Tropical Park.
But everyone involved in this barnburner, from the players to the spectators that paid $8 to get into the stands and scream their lungs out, can tell you that Gulliver made a strong statement.
Everyone predicted that the five time state champ Tornadoes, 8-2 after a punishing schedule with their only losses to IMG Academy and the Central Rockets, would blow out the undefeated Raiders, who played a much softer schedule.
But clearly Gulliver did not get the message that they should be intimidated. In fact, Gulliver sent their own message to the Tornadoes starting with the two captains they sent out to the coin toss- former Tornadoes Donell Harris Jr. (Texas A&M commit) and Eddie Jackson (Northern Illinois commit).
Gulliver then powered to a 14-0 lead with two long drives, and its ‘bend but don’t break’ defense kept the explosive Tornadoes out of the endzone for the first half.
The second half was a back and forth battle, as the Tornadoes quickly scored three touchdowns and took a 19-14 lead into the fourth quarter.
After the Raiders were forced to settle for a short field goal, the Tornadoes scored another touchdown and led 26-17 with just under 6 minutes left.
But the Raiders quickly responded and cut the lead to 26-24. Then Gulliver linebacker Travious Lathan had the defensive play of the night as he stripped the ball from Tornadoes RB Shemar Paul and the Raiders recovered the ball at midfield. On the next play Anton Hall Jr. (Naval Academy commit) slashed for a 40-yard score and Gulliver was up 31-26 with just over 4 minutes left.
The Tornadoes then did what a five time champ does- pull off one more miracle drive with their season on the line (including a fourth and 3 conversion) and score with just over a minute left. Gulliver’s last gasp drive with under a minute left ended with an interception.
“It hurts when you lose a game like this, but that’s life,” said Gulliver Head Coach Earl Sims. “I am proud of our group for the effort they displayed all season long, especially last night from start to finish. This game and season will be catalogued as a lifelong memory and I am proud to be a Gulliver Raider.”
Gulliver packed the stands and the Gulliver cheerleaders, revived last year after a 3 year hiatus by Cheerleading Coach Carla Hodel, a former Gulliver and Marist College cheerleader, kept the “Blue Zoo” student section rocking the entire game.
“I am so proud of the entire Gulliver community tonight,” said Athletics Social Media Coordinator Leana Edwards as she nervously paced the sidelines cheering on the Raiders. “It is amazing to see our students, parents, teachers and alumni come out in numbers and bring an electrifying energy to cheer on our student athletes.”
Booker T. Washington travels to Broward next Friday to play for the chance to go to the state finals at Daytona Stadium against defending state champ Cardinal Gibbons Chiefs, who knocked off the University School Sharks 35-17 in the other 4-4A “Region of Death” semifinal.