PALMETTO -- The night of redemption finally arrived for the Southeast football team.
The Seminoles waited a year to get back at Palmetto and on Friday night came out with a vengeance to earn a 31-17 victory over the host Tigers and capture the Class 5A-District 10 title.
"This means redemption. We had this game circled on our schedule as our biggest game of the year, and we played our hearts out," Southeast quarterback Myles Braxton-Johnson said. "We didn't make the mistakes like we made last year and took care of business. Our defense played tremendous. To go to the playoffs as district champ feels great."
The defending district champion Tigers (7-2, 3-1) have one regular season game left and then will go to the playoffs as the district runner-up. Palmetto defeated Southeast 16-13 last year to win the title in a game where it scored nine points off turnovers by the Seminoles.
This time Southeast (8-2, 4-0) took better care of the ball, and its defense was outstanding. The Seminoles held Palmetto to 51 yards rushing and 165 total yards from scrimmage.
In the first half, Southeast had 175 yards offense from scrimmage and held Palmetto to 35, but only led 7-0 thanks to a seven-yard touchdown run by Courtney Allen.
Fireworks exploded in the third quarter. Palmetto's Josh Hicks fumbled the kickoff. Southeast recovered on the 8 and scored on the next play when Allen took it to paydirt.
Palmetto answered with an 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Patrick Green to trail 14-7.
But Southeast came right back when
Braxton-Johnson threw a 58-yard scoring strike to Jacob Sannon to go up 21-7 with less than two minutes gone in the period.
"It was important for us to stay on task after that kickoff return, and we came back and got points," Southeast head coach Paul Maecthle said. "They kind of did to us what we did to them last year with turnovers. Our defensive line played a tremendous football game getting after their quarterback and causing him to be a little rattled and throw the ball high. Our defense in the first half was tremendous."
Broddrick Waters intercepted Braxton-Johnson and returned it nine yards to the Southeast 19 after Sannon's TD. The Seminoles defense held, and the Tigers had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Zach Reda.
After a three-and-out by Southeast, Palmetto seemed to grab the momentum when Shaquille Harris caught a 39-yard scoring strike from Chris Tuten, and the Tigers trailed 21-17 with 1:49 left in the third quarter.
But Allen returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards to give Southeast a first down at the Palmetto 45 and set up a 21-yard field goal by Andrew Hoyle for a 24-17 lead with 9:41 left in the game.
Southeast got the ball back and clinched the game on a 23-yard TD pass from Braxton-Johnson to Antonio Ray.
"We got to play better. Offensively we have to do more," Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said. "This was for a championship. They don't give out championships, and I think our kids learned that. Southeast wanted it more tonight. Defensively, our kids did the job. Obviously the fumble on the kickoff, that is not the way you want to open the second half. He just couldn't get the handle on it.
"Across the board we are not getting that fire and passion to be a champion that we are shooting for, and that's what we wanted."
When the first round of the region playoffs begins in two weeks, Palmetto will be at Auburndale, and Southeast will play host to Lake Wales.
The Palmetto defense did a good job holding Allen to 103 yards on 22 carries. Braxton-Johnson threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns. Southeast held Josh Hicks to 46 yards on 11 carries.