LAKE WALES -- E.J. Burston broke from the huddle, but not before hugging his wide receiver coach, Rocky Schwartz.
It was the last time Burston, a senior wide receiver, would get the opportunity to do so following a Palmetto football game.
Schwartz, who was a standout at Lakewood Ranch and the University of Houston, had become a second father to Burston.
The wide receiver and his teammates had just lost 17-14 to Lake Wales on Friday during a Class 5A-Region 3 semifinal at Legion Field.
"That's like my other dad, because we've been through so much," said Burston, who had a 48-yard touchdown run and finished with a team-high 47 receiving yards on four receptions. "This whole summer, we all put in so much work. Add work on top of work when we didn't have to. We were just working out constantly and grinding. State championship was our goal, but we just fell short."
Palmetto (9-3) was behind the entire night, but managed to keep the game close at halftime, trailing 10-7.
Lake Wales, known for its physical running, scored two touchdowns off passes. The first came late in the first quarter when Railond Garrett found Tony Reeves on a screen that went 63 yards.
The next one was a 12-yard strike from Garrett to Davi'on Riley on the Highlanders' first possession of the second half.
It armed Lake Wales (7-4) with a 10-point cushion.
Palmetto, however, didn't quit.
The Tigers marched into Lake Wales territory in the third quarter when Chris
Tuten delivered an apparent 35-yard touchdown pass to Shaq Harris.
It was called off for offensive pass interference, however, after Harris pushed off a defender.
The result forced Palmetto into a long third down situation, which it didn't convert.
A punt pinned the Highlanders inside their own 5 and that's when momentum shifted to Palmetto for the fourth quarter.
Josh Hicks, who totaled a game-high 124 rushing yards, returned a Lake Wales fumble two yards for a score to cut the deficit to three with 10:35 left in the fourth quarter.
"That was momentum," Burston said. "We knew that was going to happen. We fight. We fight all the time. This is adversity and we've been in worse situations than this We're going to fight until the last second goes off the clock."
The Tigers' defense forced a three-and-out for Lake Wales.
But Palmetto turned the ball over when Tuten threw an interception to Jermel Moment on the next possession.
The Tigers' last chance came with 3:33 left in the game.
Palmetto picked up a first down at midfield before Tuten threw consecutive four incompletions that.
Lake Wales only needed to record one first down to kill the clock, and did so on Reeves' 10-yard run.
"I feel like we should have got them," Burston said. "I feel like we had a lot of missed opportunities. I really don't want to watch the film right now, because I know when we go back and look there is going to be so many plays we should have had and missed blocks and stuff like that. But everything happens for a reason. We played our heart out, and that's all I can ask from the seniors and the underclassmen."