FORT MYERS -- One referee signaled a touchdown, and some of the Southeast players said they saw a second one also award them six points. But an official on the other side of the field, who was in back of the play and had a poor view, called the pass to Antonio Ray incomplete, saying it hit the ground.
Unfortunately, that is how the season will end for Southeast, which fell to host South Fort Myers 28-21 on Friday night in the Class 3A-Region 3 championship game.
“I caught the ball. One referee signaled touchdown. I don’t understand the call. I caught the ball. It did not hit the ground,” a despondent Ray said after the game.
Southeast had a 4th-and-8 from the SFM 14 when quarterback Dyron Speight threw the ball to Ray, who was alone in the end zone with 10.2 seconds left in the game. The ball was low, but Ray looked as if he caught it under his arms, and an official near him signaled touchdown.
“I knew somebody was going to be open in the end zone, and I threw it,” Speight said. “To me, it looked like he caught the ball, but the refs make the decision. The ball was low, but it was in his arms. I don’t understand the call.”
The Noles (10-3) had blown a 21-14 lead, allowing SFM superstar Sammy Watkins two touchdowns in the final 3:18 of the game to secure the victory.
The Wolfpack (12-0) trailed 21-14 when they had a 4th-and-14 at their own 31. They were back to punt, but the ball was snapped to quarterback Dallas Crawford, who was the up-man. He threw a pass that went about 10 yards in the air to Watkins, who outraced the Southeast defenders for a 69-yard touchdown to tie the game at 21 with 3:18 left.
“I don’t know what happened on that play. I saw it coming,” said Brian Poole, who was the deep man back to receive the punt. “On that final play to Ray, two of the referees said it was a touchdown, and I saw it was a catch.”
Southeast couldn’t get a first down and had to punt. Unfortunately it went to Watkins, who maneuvered his way through a host of Seminoles down the left sideline and took the ball into the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown and a 28-21 lead with 1:05 remaining the game.
On the Seminoles’ ensuing possession, Speight hit Calvin Williams for a 47-yard pass that gave the Noles a first down on the SFM 26. Southeast was pushed back to the 39 when the same ref who denied the last pass called Speight for intentional grounding when he threw the ball out of bounds.
But the senior quarterback came right back, hitting Boe Brand for 23 yards to give Southeast a first down on the SFM 16.
“They (SFM) got the ball to their best player on the fake punt.
“They couldn’t get it to him other ways, so they did it that way,” Southeast head coach Paul Maechtle said. “I thought he (Ray) caught the ball at the end, and one official signaled it. No one made a definitive call. I never saw anyone signal it wasn’t good, but those things happen.”
SFM jumped out to a 14-0 lead on its first two possessions of the game on touchdown passes of five and 33 yards from Crawford. Southeast hurt itself with two lost fumbles on its three first possessions by Williams. The last one gave SFM the ball on the Noles 34, and it scored two plays later.
The Southeast defense tightened, and the Noles came back to score on a 1-yard run by Speight to cap a 75-yard drive that Courtney Allen sparked with a 29-yard run.
Southeast tied the game with 14.4 seconds left before halftime on an 8-yard pass from Speight to Ray. The Noles finally took the lead with 21.7 seconds left in the third quarter on a 1-yard run by Poole that ended a 19-play, 80-yard drive and seemed to be in control until those last-minute heroics by Watkins, who is rated the No. 1 receiver in Florida and has committed to Clemson.
“On that last play, it was a great scramble by Speight, and he got the ball to Ray. It’s unfortunate,” Maechtle said. “It was a tremendous effort by our kids coming back. We came back in the first half and went ahead, and we had them on the 15 going in and should’ve gotten a touchdown. We tried to get some time off the clock and ran the ball, and maybe we should’ve kept flipping it at them.”
Southeast blew a golden opportunity to put the game away when Poole recovered a SFM fumble on the Wolfpack 22 with 7:44 left. But the Noles couldn’t get a first down and missed a 30-yard field goal attempt.