The Eastside Rams and Palatka Rams fought until the last second Friday. The Rams left Citizens Field with a win in the books, 28-27, to advance to the 2S region semifinals of the FHSAA football playoffs.
Stakes Are High
Coming into Friday night’s game, both teams knew what a loss would mean for their placement in the FHSAA playoff bracket. Rams coach Harold “Gator” Hoskins spoke about the heightened emotions leading up to the game:
“The seniors knew if they don’t win, this is it. So, I think that was on our shoulders, but they came out and played great. We did enough. We did what we had to do to win by one.”
Both teams’ grit, aggression and adrenaline showed and made for a tight, but exciting game.
A Back-and-Forth Game
With only six minutes left in the first quarter, senior running back Joshua Benjamin was the first to put his team on the scoreboard with a 3-yard rushing touchdown. However, this was not the end of his glory that night. About 13 seconds before the end of the quarter, Benjamin scored a 51-yard touchdown, bringing the Rams (8-3) ahead 14-0.
In the second quarter, the Panthers (7-4) retaliated with a 15-yard touchdown from their sophomore quarterback Tommy Offord. A good kick from their junior kicker Gage White left the Rams in the lead at the end of the half, 14-7.
Tension in the Second Half
In less than a minute into the second half, Palatka’s senior tight end Trent Williams brought the game to a tie with a 70-yard touchdown. Just minutes later, the Panthers pulled ahead with a 15-yard rushing touchdown from senior wide receiver Tay Valentine.
With about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, Benjamin brought the Rams back in the game with a 15-yard rushing touchdown. Eastside and Palatka brought the game to a tie, 21-21.
With Palatka in possession, a pass was picked off by junior cornerback Victor White and returned down to the end zone for a touchdown. However, a flag on the play brought the Rams back to their own 45-yard line and the touchdown was taken back. This was one of many penalties against Eastside for the night.
Despite this setback, Eastside pulled ahead 28-21 with a 42-yard touchdown by senior wide receiver Antoneo Wilson. This was a memorable night for Wilson. Not only was this his first catch of the season, but also the game-winning touchdown.
“My quarterback trusted me and I just went up and made the play,” Wilson said.
Palatka fired back with an 89-yard touchdown from the kick return by Tay Valentine. With a failed attempt of a two-point conversion, the Rams came out on top.
— Kate Ross (@kmross_11) November 11, 2023
Going into round two of the playoffs, Hoskins said he hopes to improve on many aspects of his team’s game:
“Fixing our penalties, and just being more locked in. We had too much going on. We were out of position on a lot of plays, gave up a couple of big scores on big plays they shouldn’t have got.”
The Rams, the region’s fourth seed, face the top-seeded Bradford Tornadoes (11-0) in Starke at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Bradford defeated Atlantic 42-0 to advance.
The winner would face the winner from the other region semifinal between three seed Baker County (7-3) at two seed Yulee (9-2) in the region final Nov. 24.