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Fagan, Belgrave Stun Panthers With Late Defensive TDs

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Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2018 8:50 pm | Updated: 9:29 pm, Thu Oct 4, 2018.

Naquon Fagan knew the Spartans needed someone to make a big play.

So he took matters into his own hands and ripped the ball away from Palmetto quarterback Vernon Kelson and returned it 82 yards for a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Twelve seconds later teammate Emmanuel Belgrave returned an interception three yards for a touchdown as Southridge stunned Palmetto 27-16 in a key district game in Class 8A.

“I can’t believe I won it,” Fagan said. “It feels like a dream right now.”

Southridge (5-1) won its 11th consecutive meeting in the series and was led on offense by Jaylin Willis’ 183 passing yards, including a 93-yard touchdown to Marcus Fleming, and Courtney Reese’s 95 rushing yards and a score on 19 carries.

“The one thing you don’t do is you don’t apologize for a victory,” Southridge coach Sedrick Irvin said, “but it was sloppy on our end. We’ve got to be better on offense, we were undisciplined with the penalties. I’m happy for the win, but I know we’ve got a long way to go.”

Palmetto (4-1) took a 16-14 lead on the final play of the third quarter when freshman Mike Jackson returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.

The Panthers held onto their lead through most of the fourth quarter despite losing starting quarterback Cairiq Rackley and standout safety and returner Cornelius Nunn to injuries.

Rain began to fall late in the fourth and Palmetto appeared on its way to sealing the victory when Kelson found Kentron Poitier open down the sideline for 40 yards inside Spartans’ territory.

However, moments later Fagan came up with the big play taking the ball from the middle of the field and using his speed to race up the Southridge sideline scoring with 2:46 left in the game.

“When I took the ball out of the quarterback’s hands, I looked and saw a bunch of white jerseys, and I just knew that, ‘OK it’s time to go,’” Fagan said. “It feels good. I did the same thing last week in the Rockledge game, but they called it back.”

Jaylin Willis’ two-point pass attempt failed with Southridge leading 20-16.

Kelson and the Panthers had a chance to respond until his first play from scrimmage was taken away from Belgrave.

Brashad Smith opened the scoring with a 7-yard touchdown run for Palmetto for a 7-0 lead.

The Spartans’ offense was stagnant until Willis connected with Fleming for a 93-yard touchdown pass. Fleming caught the pass over Jason Marshall and raced in for the final 40 yards as part of a seven-catch, 136-yard performance.

Palmetto’s Tyler Larco made a 24-yard field goal giving the Panthers a 10-6 lead at halftime.

Reese was bottled up early in the game managing only eight yards in his first eight carries before bursting out for runs of 20, 12, and 14 yards before his 3-yard touchdown late in the third quarter for a 14-10 after Willie Spivey caught a two-point conversion pass from Willis.

“As the game went on holes starting opening up and every hole I saw I hit it with a burst, get what I can get, and the next play, come again, and burst,” Reese said.

Southridge hosts the state’s top-ranked team in 6A contender Carol City (5-0) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Southridge is ranked No. 24, regardless of class, by FloridaHSFootball.com.

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