ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — The Seminole High Fighting Seminoles want to know why nobody respects them anymore.
Seminole is two years removed from a state championship and last year won its district and moved deepest into the playoffs of any team in the county. Still there hasn’t been even a thought of Seminole having a chance at a return trip to states beyond the fields and halls of Sanford’s high school.
If they keep proving it on the field as they did Friday night, that might change shortly.
In what was billed as the biggest game in the district this year, Seminole swarmed Lake Brantley, jumping out to a 35-0 first half lead.
Though they let off the gas, the Noles held off a Brantley charge late and cruised to a 42-23 victory.
With the win, Seminole clinched the Class 6A-District-3 title for the third straight year and the coaches have no problem using a little perceived disrespect as motivation.
“It feels good,” Seminole coach Mike Cullison said. “I still feel like we’re trying to prove ourselves. I told our kids before the game ‘We were state champions, we’ve won two district championships in a row, and we still have to prove ourselves.’ It just feels like we have to prove something. I’m talking about outside of Sanford. Outside of Sanford, nobody believes that we can do anything.”
The Seminoles used that motivation and came out amped up in the first half.
“We like being underdogs,” receiver Ron Moore Jr. said. “It makes up play harder.”
They took control from the very first series of the contest.
On the second play of the game Seminole caused Lake Brantley’s Dontavious Howard to fumble and it was recovered at the eight-yard line by Serderius Bryant. After a delay of game penalty pushed Seminole back to the 13, quarterback TJ Thompson hit Moore Jr. in the end zone on third down to put the Seminoles up 7-0.
Lake Brantley pieced together a drive down the field on their next possession, led by the feet of quarterback Ti’on Green. But the drive stalled near midfield. The ensuing punt put Seminole at the 20. But the Noles needed only one play to get on the board again. On first down, Thompson hit Moore on a fly pattern out of the slot, deep down the left side of the field for an 80-yard touchdown. Eric Farkas missed the extra point, but Seminole had a 13-0 lead and Lake Brantley was reeling.
The Seminole defense didn’t relax for an instant and forced their first three and out of the game, forcing another Patriots punt. Shortly thereafter, Thompson hit Alex Jones down the left sideline for a 53-yard score to make it 21-0 after a two-point conversion pass from Eric Farkas to Ross Shaw.
MOORE OF THE SAME
The Seminoles would not stop there.
After forcing another Lake Brantley punt, Seminole drove down the field and Thompson hit Moore for a third touchdown, this one of 39 yards made it 28-0. It was the eighth touchdown connection of the year for the senior duo.
“It’s just good to see that those two guys are starting to click,” Cullison said. “TJ is actually starting to be a quarterback. He’s starting to play like a quarterback. He’s not making a bad play worse. He’s doing some good things.”
Thompson and Moore have been teammates since playing together on Seminole’s freshman team, but only recently has their combination really started to click.
“They’ve been throwing it all over on our defense in practice,” linebacker Serderius Bryant said. “It’s been hard to stop them. But we just encourage them. TJ said that’s his favorite receiver. Anytime he gets in trouble, he throws it to Ron. I’d feel the same way. Ron has ‘for sure’ hands.”
Thompson and Moore have connected for touchdowns in six of Seminole’s last seven games, but the Lake Brantley game, against some of the better secondary players in the area, was a bit of a statement.
“Over spring and summer we worked a lot on timing and route-running,” Moore said. “Our coach has been telling us that we’re the best duo in Central Florida, that I’m the best receiver and [TJ] is the best quarterback. We just started believing in what our coaches have been saying.”
Thompson finished the game with 13 completions on 22 passes. He threw for 260 yards and four touchdowns, all in the first half, when he was a perfect 7-for-7. Moore caught seven of Thompson’s 13 completions for 184 yards and three scores.
“Coach and Ron helped to reconstruct my throwing motion,” Thompson said of his success, which has him at 1305 yards and 13 touchdowns while completing 62 percent of his passes this season. “It’s clicking now because of that. It used to be long and slow. [The ball] gets out quicker now.”
PATS SWITCH QUARTERBACKS
Lake Brantley drove all the way down the field on their next drive, but Green was intercepted in the end zone by Adam Mordecai.
Seminole took full advantage, piecing together another long scoring drive. The eight-play, 85-yard trek was capped by a nine-yard scoring run from Serderius Bryant to make it 35-0 with just 1:31 left in the half.
Lake Brantley coach George Clayton, feeling the heat of potentially being running clocked in the second half, went to senior Connor McGrath at quarterback and McGrath engineered the drive that finally put Lake Brantley on the scoreboard. With eight second left in the half, McGrath hit Pierre Youngblood-Ary with a 16-yard scoring strike to make it 35-7 at halftime.
Seminole received the ball in the second half, but it was clear from their emergence from the locker room that the Patriots wouldn’t go away without a fight.
On the first play of Seminole’s first second half drive, Ray Martin was dropped for a loss of 10 on a pitch. Thompson then fired his first incomplete pass and on 3rd & 20, was sacked for a loss of four. The 14 yards lost on the drive forced Seminole to punt from out of their own end zone, but they never got the chance to as the snap flew well over Farkas’ head for a safety.
“We laid back,” Bryant said. “We went into the locker room playing and laughing, like the game was over. We got relaxed. We have to work on that.”
Lake Brantley’s momentum stalled when Ti’on Green fumbled on the first play from scrimmage after the safety kick. But the Lake Brantley defense stepped up and limited Seminole to zero total yards on their next two drives.
That allowed the offense to find the rhythm they’d ended the half with and McGrath led a nine-play 69-yard drive into the end zone for Lake Brantley’s second score. The drive was capped by McGrath’s second scoring pass of the game to Youngblood-Ary. A two-point conversion run by Green made it 35-17.
Seminole went to the ground on their next drive and sophomore Ronnie Moore piled up 37 of his 76 total yards. But the drive failed when Thompson threw incomplete on 4th & 6 from the Brantley 33. The Patriots answered with a 67-yard drive in five plays, highlighted by a 42-yard pass from McGrath to Green that got the ball down to the one-yard line where McGrath dove in for the score. The conversion run failed making it 35-23.
The key for Lake Brantley was allowing Green to roam from the backfield to the slot, rather than sticking him under center. Green finished with 65 yards rushing and the 42-yard catch and run put him over 100 yards despite three fumbles, one that he lost and an 0-5 passing day including an interception.
Brantley went for an onside kick and Tanner Blackman got to the ball first, but it popped out his grasp and was returned by Ron Moore Jr. to the 32.
Seminole ground the ball out and ran time off the clock, capping a nine-play drive with a four-yard run from Bryant, his second of the day. The Seminole defense took care of business from there, ensuring the victory and clinching another district title.
“This feels good,” Bryant said of winning the title. “Lake Brantley came in as a good team. We came in as a good team. It felt very good to come out here and put some points on the board against Lake Brantley.”
Bryant thinks that if Seminole keeps playing the way they are, the respect will have to come.
“I guess every season, people always think that everybody leaves and we don’t have anybody else. But we have players that come out and show out after the season every year. [Ronnie Moore] came out and showed out as a sophomore. We have players all around. We have athletes at Seminole and they’re going to start respecting us. We have to make them respect us.”
Seminole has this Friday off, but is back in action on November 5 as they wrap district play hosting Lyman. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Lake Brantley is at DeLand this Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.