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Mariner beats Clewiston in thriller 24-20

September 29, 2018
By CJ HADDAD ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Mariner High School (3-2) had to hold their collective breaths before celebrating a homecoming victory at Tony McKenna Football Stadium against Class 5A-District 12 opponent Clewiston (1-5), as the Tritons held their ground on the goal line as time expired to preserve a 24-20 victory Friday night in a game delayed by lightning.

Two first-quarter fumbles by Mariner deep into Tiger territory squandered what looked to be certain scoring drives which kept the game scoreless after 12 minutes of play.

Early in the second, Mariner put together a 90-yard drive, highlighted by senior quarterback, and homecoming king, Rashawn Hunter's 48-yard touchdown run. Hunter evaded Clewiston linebackers, zigging and zagging until he broke away up the right sideline to put Mariner on top.

Clewiston would answer with an 80-yard touchdown drive of their own on the ensuing possession, as junior Jaivus Chavers punched it in from five yards out to knot the score at 6-6, with both kickers failing on the extra-point attempt.

As the second quarter came to a close, Mariner turned the ball over on downs with 15 seconds remaining until half.

Clewiston, with 77 yards of field in front of them, decided to throw a deep ball on the last play of the half, but Hunter had other ideas.

The two-way player picked off Tiger quarterback Morris James just before midfield, and brought it back to the house on a 45-yard pick six, with all zeros on the clock. Hunter got help from teammate Dylan Hinz with a key block that set him free up the right sideline.

Mariner failed on a 2-point conversion, taking a 12-6 lead into the break.

Following a Mariner homecoming celebration, Clewiston would silence the crowd as senior J'quonne Banks returned the second-half kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, heading into a flurry of players before coming out the other end, burning the Triton return team.

Tiger kicker Jose Benitez knocked through the point after to give Clewiston a 13-12 advantage.

The following possession proved to be discouraging for the Tritons, resulting in a punt, and the loss of play-making Hunter, with a shoulder injury.

Hunter had compiled 144 rushing yards with a touchdown and pick-six before departing and not returning to the game.

Hinz and sophomore offensive specialist Tavin Ward would take over for Hunter under center for the remainder of the game.

No points were scored after the opening kick of the third quarter, keeping it a one-possession game heading into the final stanza.

Following a Mariner punt, Clewiston took over near midfield.

Sophomore Ja'Markis Weston popped a 58-yard touchdown gallup on the first play of the drive, bouncing off would-be tacklers, spinning, then jolting up the left sideline to increase the Tiger lead to 20-12 after another Benitez point-after.

It only took Mariner 26 seconds to strike back with a score of their own, as junior running back Cade Reynolds - who was a workhorse all night, especially after Hunter left the game - carried the ball 64 yards into the end zone on the second play of the series for the Tritons.

Cade, who finished with 168 rushing yards, fought off Tigers' defenders and came head-to-head with Clewiston's safety, before dropping him to the ground and finishing off the scoring play.

Mariner would just come up short on an attempt to tie on a two-point conversion, keeping Clewiston ahead 20-18 with time running out in the fourth.

The Tritons forced the visitors to punt, giving them the ball back with under five minutes to play.

Hinz connected with Ward for a huge 54-yard reception to get the Tritons to the Tigers' 16-yard line.

After Reynolds was stuffed on a run attempt, Hinz dropped back to pass and floated a jump ball to the back right corner of the end zone, where 6'4" senior Ericson Noel rose up and brought it down, sending the Mariner faithful into a frenzy.

The two-point attempt by the Tritons was unsuccessful, but the touchdown gave them a 24-20 advantage with just 1:51 to play.

The final possession for Clewiston was a dramatic one, filled with big plays and costly penalties.

Senior running back Trayqan Williams, who was steady all game on the ground, brought the Tigers to within striking distance with six seconds left.

On the final play of the game, James scrambled out of the pocket, weaving through Triton defenders, looking as if he was going to hit pay dirt and break the hearts of the home team. That was until junior Dakota Puckett lowered his shoulder and stopped the crafty quarterback from crossing the goal line.

When the play had ended, the clock read zero, and the Mariner sideline poured onto the field to celebrate their come-from-behind victory.

"Holy Cow," said Mariner head coach Travis Smith following the intense final possession of the game. "Glad we pulled it out. A win's a win whether it's sloppy or not. That's all I can say, a win's a win. We got a lot of stuff we've got to fix if we're going to keep pushing through the rest of the season."

Despite losing their play-making quarterback, Smith believes in team-effort wins, and said it's not just about one player.

"The team's never been about one guy. Unfortunately he went down, but our kids came together and they played their butts off," he said.

Smith couldn't wait to go celebrate with his team, and said, "It's great. It's great," of the way his team pulled out the victory on homecoming night - surely a game the Mariner seniors will not soon forget.

Final score, Mariner 24 Clewiston 20.




2nd Quarter

Mariner: Rashawn Hunter 46-yard run (kick blocked) 10:06

Clewiston: J Chavers 5-yard run (kick missed) 5:25

Mariner: Hunter 45-yard interception return (two-point conversion failed) 0:00

3rd Quarter:

Clewiston: J. Banks 89-yard kickoff return (Benitez kick good) 11:43

4th Quarter:

Clewiston: K. Fowler 58-yard run (Benitez kick good) 5:25

Mariner: Cade Reynolds 64-yard run (two-point conversion failed) 4:59

Mariner: Ericson Noel 16-yard reception from Dylan Hinz (two-point conversion failed) 1:51

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj



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