WELLINGTON - In Palm Beach Central's 27-19 win over Palm Beach Gardens, it was a penalty that changed the game for both teams.
Down 19-17 early in the fourth quarter, it seemed as if Palm Beach Gardens was about to run away with a win on the road.
Immediately after Gators sophomore running back Tommy Monday reached the end zone off a 24-yard run, the apparent touchdown was called back due to an illegal motion by the Gardens offense.
The Gators lead, which should have been at 25-17, was now suddenly in jeopardy.
"We had that penalty at an inopportune time," Palm Beach Gardens head coach Rob Freeman said. "We had six men on the line. It was a mental error on our part."
It all unraveled for Gardens from that point on, as the Gators went on to end the ensuing drive on a failed fake field goal play.
In addition to that, Palm Beach Central's rushing attack took center stage for much of the fourth quarter, as Broncos senior ATH Lloyd Howard and junior RB Tommy McDonald shared carries in their efforts to wear down the Gators defense.
Palm Beach Central began its 10-point scoring run in the fourth off a 44-yard field goal made by senior K Cameron Golob with 4:29 left. At that point, the Broncos took a 20-19 lead.
After a three-and-out by the Gardens offense, Palm Beach Central needed just two plays to ice the game, thanks to a 60-yard touchdown run by McDonald with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter.
"Our front line did a great job creating a crease for Tommy," Palm Beach Central head coach Rod Harris said of his team's offensive linemen, which include the likes of junior OL K.C. McDermott and senior OL Nickedel Pierre. "They blocked well on that play."
Howard sealed the deal with a game-ending interception catch.
"Our coaches told us to play the full 48 minutes and we got it done tonight," Howard said. "Last time we played them, they held us to six points and 151 yards.
We wanted to make sure that didn't happen again."
It almost did, as Gardens (7-3 final record) went on a 12-0 scoring run in the third quarter after facing a 0-7 halftime deficit. Senior RB Jermaine Carn (2-yard touchdown run with 7:43 left in the third) and Monday (5-yard touchdown run with 5:59 left) catapulted the Gators to a 19-10 lead that seemed to be secure.
The Broncos scored the game's final 17 points en route to the program's first postseason victory.
"The kids stuck together and never once gave up," Harris said. "Every time we play this team, it's always good, hard nose football. I have a lot of respect for what Palm Beach Gardens has done. I'm just glad we were able to get the biggest win in school history tonight."
With the victory, the Broncos (8-2 record) will move on to the second round of the Class 8A playoffs in a game against Seminole Ridge on Nov. 23. As for the Gators (7-3 final record), their season is now officially over.