TAMPA — Tampa Bay Tech coach Jayson Roberts has referred to running back Ronald Sims as his closer. At 5-foot-7, 183 pounds, the senior is known for barreling up the middle, eating up clock and getting the kind of yardage that helps the Titans wrap things up.
In Friday’s Class 7A state semifinal against Lake Gibson, Sims did that and so much more, rushing for three touchdowns — two of which came in a back-and-forth second half — to lift the Titans to a 42-24 victory and their first state championship appearance.
“Once we get to this point, the third, fourth quarter, I’m the running back that comes in and runs the clock down,” said Sims, who came into the game with 494 yards and six touchdowns on the season. “I’ve stepped into that role, never complained. It is what it is.”
In the first half, it seemed as if the Titans (14-0) would need their closer earlier than ever. Lake Gibson got on the board first with a 33-yard field goal, but it was the only lead the Braves held all night.
On Tampa Bay Tech’s ensuing possession, the Titans hit right back. Junior quarterback Xavione Washington connected with sophomore Javion McKay for a 34-yard pass on the third play of the drive, setting up Washington’s eventual 29-yard touchdown pass to senior Greg Gaines III.
The Titans continued to hurt Lake Gibson (9-4) with their passing attack for the rest of the half. Washington completed four passes of at least 24 yards before halftime, one of which was a 31-yard reception by Gaines that set up Sim’s first score of the night, a 5-yard touchdown run. The Titans went up 21-3 just before halftime thanks to a 24-yard touchdown reception from McKay following a Lake Gibson fumble.
“We had been feeling like we’d been building all season long. We felt like we still hadn’t played a complete game,” Roberts said. “But I think in the right times of the game, we got the plays where we needed them from parts of the offense. We got timely stops on defense and turnovers that really sealed the game for us.”
The Braves came back from the break with a little bit of momentum, and running back Jaylon Glover scored his first of three second-half touchdowns on Lake Gibson’s first possession of the half.
Twice in the second half, though, the Braves were hurt by a turnover, first an interception made by freshman cornerback Johnnie Tyson, then on a fumble recovery made by junior defensive tackle Donteye Drew. The Titans scored after both, on 25- and 16-yard touchdown runs from Washington and Sims, respectively.
Sims went on to have the knockout punch in the waning minutes, a 5-yard touchdown run with just more than two minutes to play.
After the final whistle blew, Roberts stood at midfield, receiving praise from players and alumni alike. The program’s big moment was his team’s to celebrate. But, as Roberts points out, it’s been long awaited by anyone who’s ever been a Titan.
“That’s what’s so special about this. Of course I’m ecstatic for the kids that are here, but I’m ecstatic for anyone that’s attended this school,” he said. “I’m ecstatic for all the former players who have come through here, the guys who put in sweat, blood and tears to help turn this thing around from an 0-10 program to headed to the state championship.”
At Gene Cox Stadium, Tallahassee
3A: Berkeley Prep vs. Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna, 7 p.m. Dec. 10
At DRV PNK Stadium, Fort Lauderdale
7A: Tampa Bay Tech vs. Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, 7 p.m. Dec. 17
6A: Jesuit vs. Pensacola Pine Forest, 7 p.m. Dec. 18