Redemption came in the form of the Class 5A-District 11 championship for Wauchula Hardee High School on Friday night.
With fresh memories of last year’s seven-point home loss to Southeast that cost them a district title and sent them into a tailspin that kept them out of the postseason, the Wildcats took care of business thanks to a little help from the Seminoles in a 20-10 victory at John Kiker Memorial Stadium. The matchup featured the district’s final two unbeaten teams.
Southeast, which must beat Sarasota Booker on the road next week to advance to the postseason for the second straight season, lost two of its nine fumbles and failed to protect quarterback Alex Taylor, who finished with minus-64 rushing yards on 15 carries thanks to bad shotgun snaps, mishandled snaps and sacks.
“We’re still learning as a team,” said Southeast first-year head coach and former Seminole quarterback Rashad West. “Unfortunately, it’s Week 9 (of the season). We’re still learning, man. We just have to do the right things Monday through Friday. We just have to look at this, keep improving and keep working.”
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A fumble recovery at the Southeast 26 late in the first quarter by the Wildcats’ Jimmy Lane set up Hardee’s first touchdown, an 11-yard pass from Hayden Lindsey with 48 seconds gone in the second quarter. Lindsey ran for a touchdown in the third quarter and threw a 22-yard scoring pass to Kai Washington with 9:04 left.
“It was a heartbreaking loss (21-14) at our home field last year,” said Lindsey. “We brought it this year. Our new head coach (Brian Kemp) motivated us throughout the week, and we came to win.”
Southeast got on the board with a 28-yard field goal from Julio Martinez to move within four, 7-3, in the second quarter, but it missed a crucial opportunity after advancing to Hardee 8 before halftime. A bad shotgun snap led to a 23-yard loss on a third-and-7 and forced the Seminoles to punt.
Taylor was sacked by Hardee’s Randy McCleod and Damar Harris picked up the subsequent fumble to set up the Wildcats’ second touchdown of the game. A 22-yard punt return by Washington enabled Hardee (6-2, 4-0) to start its final touchdown drive at the Southeast 23.
While Lindsey and his teammates were motivated by last year’s loss, new head coach Kemp, a Hardee graduate, remembered his high school career ending in 2002 with a loss to Southeast that was capped by former Seminole great and future NFL cornerback Mike Jenkins’ interception.
“I’ll never forget that game (in 2002), so it’s kind of sweet to come back home and win my first district championship as a head coach against the team that ended my career,” said Kemp.